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Tulsa Police Officer Acquitted In Fatal Shooting Of Unarmed Black Man


Over the last few years, many white police officers have shot unarmed black victims and wound up in the news or in court. In Tulsa yesterday, one of those officers was acquitted. Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby was on trial for fatally shooting 40-year-old Terence Crutcher back in September.

Matt Trotter of member station KWGS was at the courthouse and joins us now. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: Remind us of the circumstances surrounding this shooting.

TROTTER: So Shelby came across Terence Crutcher with his SUV stalled in the middle of a Tulsa street. She was trying to figure out what was going on there. She noticed that Crutcher was acting strangely, and she believed maybe he was under the influence of PCP. She gave him orders to get on the ground. He wouldn't comply with those. Instead, he walked away from her with his hands in the air while she had a gun pointed at him. And Shelby says when Crutcher reached inside his car window for what she believed was a gun, she shot him.

SHAPIRO: What was the case that the defense made for why the officer killed Crutcher?

TROTTER: The case they made was Shelby believed Terence Crutcher was reaching into his car to get a gun. Now, no weapon was found. But what the defense told the jury is that Shelby's training is basically she needs to act instead of react, that if she waits too long and waits to see a gun before shooting, she could be dead.

SHAPIRO: Is the police department re-evaluating that training?

TROTTER: Not that I'm aware of.

SHAPIRO: We have some reaction tape from Crutcher's father, the Reverend Joey Crutcher, speaking outside of the courtroom. Let's listen to this.


JOEY CRUTCHER: Let it be known that I believe in my heart that Betty Shelby got away with murder. And I don't know...

SHAPIRO: Matt Trotter, does that reflect a larger sentiment within the community?

TROTTER: I think it depends on who you ask. Betty Shelby certainly had her own group of supporters. You know, they stood outside the courthouse with I-stand-with-Betty banners and were in the courtroom with wristbands and stuff. But yes, there is a significant part of Tulsa that believes Betty Shelby should have been convicted.

SHAPIRO: The mayor gave a news conference saying that he respected the jury's decision, but the racial divide in Tulsa needs to be addressed. What does he mean by that?

TROTTER: Well, Mayor G.T. Bynum basically ran on the platform saying that he recognized racial disparity in a lot of areas of Tulsa, from a life-expectancy gap between the north parts of Tulsa where more black people live and the south parts where more affluent white people live - transportation, other sorts of services. So he's launched several initiatives or tried to launch several initiatives to help fix some of that.

SHAPIRO: He is white, we should say.

TROTTER: He is white, yes. And today's news conference was an acknowledgment that those efforts need to continue.

SHAPIRO: Do you expect this is the end, or what happens from here?

TROTTER: Well, there's no further action that's been announced from the family either embarking on going after those police department reforms or civil suits. I haven't heard anything about further protests as of now. The police chief also announced during today's news conference with the mayor that they're evaluating Betty Shelby's status with the Tulsa Police Department. It's not certain that she's going to come back. That's a decision that's going to be made, he said, in the near future. But a specific timeline hasn't been given.

SHAPIRO: Matt Trotter of member station KWGS in Tulsa, Okla., thanks a lot.

TROTTER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "SO MUCH FOR SO LITTLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.