Juror details 'not guilty' Shelby verdict; 'We question her judgment' as an officer
A juror who deliberated on officer Betty Shelby's manslaughter trial has released a letter detailing how the jury came to its "not guilty" verdict.
Shelby was acquitted of first-degree manslaughter for shooting and killing Terence Crutcher in September 2016. The trial lasted eight days, and the jury deliberated for more than nine hours before coming to a decision.
The letter, which was written by the jury foreman, starts off by insisting that the jurors remain anonymous. The jurors were all "keenly aware" of how significant the outcome of the trial would be to the community, according to the letter.
The foreman wrote that jurors were convinced after studying video, photos and testimony that Crutcher’s window was, in fact, open and they believe he reached inside, disobeying officers’ commands. The state of the window was in question from early in the investigation -- Crutcher’s family and their attorneys said it was closed, but investigators said it was half open.
The foreman wrote that jurors wondered and some believe Shelby could have used less lethal force prior to Crutcher reaching his SUV. What jurors couldn’t decide was if Shelby’s judgment was in accordance to her training or whether her training allowed her to holster her gun after it was drawn and instead draw her Taser. The jury believed, as the foreman wrote, had Shelby deployed a Taser before Crutcher reached his vehicle, it might have saved his life, but no evidence showed her training allowed such an option or that she could’ve been flexible in that moment.
The foreman said the jury was provided "very specific instructions" about how they would have to consider whether Shelby shot Crutcher in "the heat of passion."
"Key to these instructions was that the intense emotion had to dominate the person's thought process at the very instant the act of homicide was committed," the foreman wrote. The letter says the jury believed that Shelby feared for her life, and increasingly did so as the encounter with Crutcher went on.
The jury believed that Shelby acted "within the confines of her training" at the moment she shot Crutcher, according to the foreman. The jury believed that training, not fear, dominated in her choice to shoot, "which was evidenced at least in part by the fact that two officers simultaneously fired their weapons in response to Mr. Crutcher's actions."
The foreman wrote that the jury couldn’t conclude Shelby did anything outside her duties or training as any officer, but “many on the jury could never get comfortable with the concept of Betty Shelby being blameless for Mr. Crutcher’s death.” However, lack of evidence that Shelby acted outside of her training prior to Crutcher reaching his vehicle forced them to reach a “not guilty” verdict.
"I believe that I speak for the whole of the jury, when I say that the general public in these types of cases are unaware of just how the rule of law dictates how a jury must reach a verdict," the foreman wrote. He said the jury could not overcome guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The jury did not consider Terence Crutcher's arrest history and multiple outstanding arrest warrants in coming to the "not guilty" verdict.
Jurors heard testimony that investigators gave Shelby preferential treatment following the shooting, allowing her to review police video and give her statement days later, something Sgt. Dave Walker said is department policy when officers are involved in critical incidents.
The foreman wrote that the topic was outside the scope of evidence with regard to Shelby’s charge of first-degree manslaughter in the heat of passion, and while testimony raised the question if officers should be questioned sooner or be allowed to view video evidence, it didn’t pertain to the case. He wrote that the jury agreed the policy should be reviewed and reconsidered by TPD administrators and the police chief.
The foreman wrote that several jurors were emotional as the verdict was read.
“It was a very weighty decision and the burden of making it takes an emotional toll on a person,” reads the letter.
The jury believed, as the foreman wrote, that any officer put in the same situation "at that exact moment and regardless of the skin color, gender or size of the suspect" would’ve reacted the same way. He wrote that two officers took simultaneous action, firing at the same moment.
“That moment, according to the evidence presented, was unfortunate and tragic, but justifiable due to the actions of the suspect.”
Despite the acquittal, the foreman wrote that the jury believed serious consideration should be given to whether Shelby should be allowed to return to the force.
“We question her judgment as a law enforcement officer,” reads the letter. “We encourage the Chief of Police and the administrators at the Tulsa Police Department to take a detailed and earnest review of all points of her encounter with Mr. Crutcher.”
The foreman wrote that he is "confident" that it was a strong jury. Each juror took their duty seriously and was highly engaged. Jury members were collaborative and respectful of each other. The deliberation was long but "extremely efficient," according to the foreman.
Police Chief Chuck Jordan announced Friday that Shelby will return to duty, but not in a patrol capacity.