The Oklahoma jury that acquitted a white officer for fatally shooting an unarmed black man believed race was not a factor in the incident and the officer acted according to training but had non-deadly options available, according to court papers released on Friday.
Officer Betty Shelby, 43, was found not guilty on Wednesday of manslaughter by a Tulsa jury after a week-long trial for killing Terence Crutcher, 40, in September 2016. The roadside incident was captured on widely seen police video and stirred tensions over racial bias in policing.
“While Officer Shelby made a justifiable decision at the very moment she pulled the trigger according to her training, when reviewing the moments before she discharged her weapon, the jury wonders and some believe that she had other options available to subdue Mr. Crutcher before he reached his car,” the jury foreperson said in a letter to court.
The Crutcher case was one of a string of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of the police in the United States that spawned periodic protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The four-page letter filed last Friday with the Tulsa County District Court Clerk’s Office was given to Judge Doug Drummond on Wednesday during deliberations, with the initial request that it be read aloud when the verdict had been rendered. After the request was denied, it was included in the court record.
“The jury could not, beyond a reasonable doubt, conclude that she did anything outside of her duties and training as a police officer in that situation. This was critical to the verdict rendered,” the letter said.
Shelby told the jury she believed Crutcher may have been reaching into the vehicle through a partially open window in search of a weapon. She said she was taught during training that if a suspect reaches into a car, an officer does not let the person pull their arm back because he or she might be holding a gun.
Shelby will be returning to police duties after more than six months on administrative leave, but will not be on patrol, Tulsa police said on Friday.
On Thursday, attorneys for the Crutcher family said they planned to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Tulsa. Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, said police should never allow Shelby back on the street with a gun.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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