Follow Up Tulsa PD Shooting

The jury has returned a verdict in the shooting of Terence Crutcher by Betty Jo Shelby, during a traffic investigation. Officer-shot-Terence-Crutcher-acquitted-jury

Shortly after the shooting, Officer Shelby stated that she thought Crutcher was on PCP and due to his erratic behavior and extreme violence manifested by persons under PCP she feared for her life. The Medical Examiner determined that Crutcher was under the influence of PCP characterizing the concentration in blood as an “overdose.” 

I pointed out at the time, that the standard for determining when to use “deadly force” was based on; what would a reasonable man do in that situation? That’s man singular; this is not a committee decision. I know that three other officers within arms reach of Officer Shelby did not fire.

What is not clear from the article and may have come out in testimony is how many of those three officers were a heartbeat from pulling the trigger, when Officer Shelby fired. It is not unusual to have other officers open fire because one officer decided to shoot. The fact that the other officers didn’t fire speaks well for the Tulsa Police Department. It is not necessarily an indictment of Officer Shelby. The shooting was videoed from a circling TPD helicopter. Comments by the Pilot Observer officer would lead one to believe that he was intimidated by Crutcher even though he was circling in a helicopter.            

If the jury decided that Officer Shelby had probable cause and reason to believe that her life or the life of a third party (other officers) were in danger and that conclusion was one that a “reasonable man” would reach, then the shooting was justified.

I think part of the disconnect is that to kill Crutcher, Officer Shelby needed probable cause. Probable Cause is the same standard she would need if she were to arrest him. However, to convict Crutcher of a criminal violation, Officer Shelby, or the prosecutor, would have to establish beyond a “reasonable doubt” that Crutcher had committed the offense and was not eligible for any exceptions or defenses to prosecution.

There are some on the left, who will argue that by shooting Crutcher, Officer Shelby deprived him of a right to trial and acted as judge, jury, and executioner. Once one takes into consideration that the left will lie about anything, anytime it suits; the argument becomes less persuasive. As they say in the restaurant business, trial and execution, not my table.

To find out where the line is drawn I direct you to:


No. 83-1035

Argued: October 30, 1984,    Decided: March 27, 1985

A Tennessee statute provides that if, after a police officer has given notice of an intent to arrest a criminal suspect, the suspect flees or forcibly resists, “the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest.” constitutional. The Court of Appeals reversed.


The Tennessee statute is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes the use of deadly force against, as in this case, an apparently unarmed, nondangerous fleeing suspect; such force may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others. Pp. 7-22. [471 U.S. 1, 2]  

As the court said elsewhere in the decision, shooting and killing the suspect is the ultimate seizure; nothing there about trial or punishment. We have been conditioned by TV, movies, popular fiction, and other media that when the police shoot, it is the application of ultimate justice. That is not how the Supreme Court views it.

In popular culture, the bad guy is given every chance (usually) until there is no choice. You can always tell the relative guilt of the individual by how he meets his end. Some, like the unfortunate red shirts on Star Trek, are just a writer’s cannon fodder. Good news/bad news for a fledgling actor, “I got you a part. You are a crewman on Star Trek, on an away team mission, you get to wear a red shirt.” Dead before the first commercial.

A truly evil character will first make it to the 22nd floor, where he is shot by the hero. The bad guy falls off the building and on his way down passes through the whirling blades of a helicopter, lands on a plate glass roof, which shatters, dropping the villain into an operating wood chipper. The helicopter, minus it’s whirling blades then crashes into the wood chipper and explodes.  The house lights come on, and everybody files out of the theater never once considering; ‘Hey the bad guy didn’t get his day in court.’

Crutcher may have been everything his family says he was. Unfortunately, Crutcher was having a bad day that was only made worse when he decided to ingest PCP. The District Attorney did the right thing and prosecuted Officer Shelby. It was a close call, one that deserved a jury’s consideration.

One of the hardest concepts to teach in the police academy is the difference or gap between “probable cause” (the authority to arrest) and “beyond a reasonable doubt” (the ability to obtain a conviction). To convict Officer Shelby, the DA had to prove beyond a reasonable double that her actions were not justified. Against that, Officer Shelby’s attorney needed to demonstrate that she had probable cause and reason to believe that her life, the life of her fellow officers, or the lives of any bystanders were in immediate danger posed by Crutcher. If the defense could meet this burden, then they are entitled to the defense to prosecution afforded by state statute.

It might be helpful to recall the definition for justified. Justified, justifying to show a satisfactory reason or excuse for something done. To me, justified establishes a range from bad to good. That means that one can accept that actions were justified, while at the same time being dissatisfied with the result. It’s kinda like after a hard night of bar hopping waking up naked next to a fat girl. It’s time to get dressed, get outta there, and not share that adventure with your buddies. The night was not a total waste but, it is not something you want to brag about.