Betty Shelby, the Tulsa police officer who shot unarmed motorist Terence Crutcher in September of last year, was acquitted last month of manslaughter charges in a criminal trial, but her time in the courtroom is far from done. Crutcher’s estate is filing a civil suit based on a law against unreasonable seizures and the role of Tulsa police training in Crutcher’s death.
The estate, administered by attorney Austin Bond, is asking for redress, actual, compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000. The formal complaint states in part:
“It is well-known TPD officers too often resort to physical force when perceiving that an African-American does not immediately respond to verbal commands, even where the subject poses no imminent threat to the officer or others. These illegal tactics are the direct result of TPD’s deficient training, guidance, and policies and are ‘so widespread as to have force of law.'”
During the criminal trial that ender in her acquittal, Shelby not only proclaimed her innocence, but blamed the victim, stating “I did everything I could to stop this. Crutcher’s death is his fault.” She also testified that her actions were merely in accordance with Tulsa PD training. The civil suit seeks to uncover whether it was the Tulsa police department that encouraged Shelby to unreasonably seize Crutcher, and if police training encouraged the excessive force that resulted in Crutcher’s death.
The Crutcher case bore similarities to numerous other shootings of black men by law enforcement, in that there was a great deal of speculation, from both Shelby and the media, that Crutcher might have been on drugs and might have had a gun. Shelby encountered him after his SUV broke down, and claims he was acting erratically. Shelby testified that she shot Crutcher because she feared for her life. One officer on the scene called Crutcher “a bad dude,” according to dash cam and helicopter footage.
No drugs were found in Crutcher’s vehicle, however, nor any weapons. Though Crucher was unarmed, Officer Tyler Turnbough tased him before Shelby fatally shot him. He was left in the middle of the road for two minutes before officers walked up to the body, as Crutcher had been several feet away at the time he was killed. Footage also shows that Crutcher had his hands up and his back to police when he was shot.
Black Americans are twice as likely to be shot by police as white Americans, according to statistics compiled by the Guardian. Clearly, not all of these shootings are definitively motivated by racism. But the only way to prevent more tragedies like Crutcher’s death is to fully investigate such cases to find out the true cause — whether race, police training, law enforcement culture, or some other factor. The new civil suit is the first step in uncovering what went wrong, and toward repairing a flawed system.
(Via Tulsa World)