A white police officer facing a manslaughter trial next month for fatally shooting an unarmed black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after his vehicle broke down said race was not a factor and that the man’s own actions caused his death.
In an unusual appearance on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, officer Betty Shelby insisted her actions, captured on videotape, were driven entirely by the behavior of the man she shot, Terence Crutcher.
Although the footage showed Crutcher, 40, had his hands in the air as he stood beside his car in a roadway just before Shelby shot him, she said the video fails to show clearly that he suddenly reached into the vehicle in what she believed was an attempt to grab a weapon.
It was that move, and his repeated failure to heed her commands, that led Shelby, 42, to use lethal force.
“What I based everything on was his actions, his behaviors,” she said. Shelby acknowledged, however, that Crutcher was not being aggressive.
However, she also said she perceived Crutcher as reaching into his car for what she feared was a weapon, and also suspected that he was high on the hallucinogenic stimulant PCP, or phencyclidine, a suspicion born out by autopsy results.
“I saw a threat and I used the force I felt necessary to stop a threat,” she told CBS.
No firearm was found on Crutcher or in his vehicle.
Shelby has been charged with first-degree manslaughter, punishable by at least four years in prison in Oklahoma. Prosecutors say she escalated the situation and overreacted.
The case has stoked simmering anger among those who see racial bias in U.S. policing.
In videos provided by Tulsa police, Crutcher can be seen with his hands in the air shortly before he was shot.
“I don’t know what Officer Shelby was thinking when she pulled that trigger,” Tiffany Crutcher, the victim’s twin sister, told “60 Minutes.”
“What we saw on that video is what my dad always taught us to do if we were pulled over by a police officer. Put your hands in the air and put your hands on the car. And my brother did what my father taught us,” she said.
Shelby, who is on unpaid leave, said she regretted Crutcher’s death but that he was to blame.
“I have sorrow that this happened, that this man lost his life. But he caused the situation to occur,” she said.
“So in the end, he caused his own” death, Shelby said.
(Reporting by Chris Michaud)