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Tulsa cop on trial for killing unarmed black man says ‘lynch mob coming after me’

Officer Betty Jo Shelby went on 60 Minutes ahead of her manslaughter trial.

A frame from the aerial footage shows Officer Betty Jo Shelby and Terence Crutcher seconds before she shot and killed him last September. CREDIT: Tulsa Police Department
A frame from the aerial footage shows Officer Betty Jo Shelby and Terence Crutcher seconds before she shot and killed him last September. CREDIT: Tulsa Police Department

The Tulsa police officer who shot and killed a black motorist who had his hands raised last fall is now turning to prestigious television news programming to make her case.

In an interview with 60 Minutes aired Sunday night, Betty Jo Shelby both insists that her killing of Terence Crutcher was justified and portrays herself as the real victim in this saga. After a video snippet of protesters calling for her resignation, Shelby likens the Tulsa community’s accountability demands to “a lynch mob.”

“My situation was no different than — I don’t know whether I should say this — than a lynch mob coming after me. And I had those very threats,” said Shelby.

Lynch mobs kill people. Betty Shelby still has a job. She faces at most four years in prison in the statistically unlikely event that a jury decides her killing of Crutcher was unlawful manslaughter rather than justifiable police action.

It is unusual for someone accused of manslaughter to go on national TV to discuss specifics of a case before a jury has heard it. Potential jurors will now likely have seen both raw videos of Shelby killing Crutcher, and CBS’ tight repackaging of the Shelby team’s narrative of what the videos do and do not show.

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Elsewhere in the segment, which includes briefer snippets of an interview with Crutcher’s twin sister Tiffany, Shelby insists that implicit racial bias played no role in her decision-making that day.

She says she shot Crutcher solely because he made a sudden move, not clearly captured in any of the video angles of his death, toward his open car window. She does not address the other complicating factor for that defense: Her fellow officers had arrived on the scene seconds before she fired, and at least one had a taser trained on Crutcher when she killed him.

Crutcher’s sister, for her part, says she’s glad prosecutors opted for manslaughter rather than a murder charge because “I don’t believe she woke up that morning and said, ‘I’m gonna go and kill Terence Crutcher.’”

Sunday’s interview is at least the second attempt Shelby’s defense team have made to argue her case in the court of public opinion. One of the Tulsa cop’s lawyers and an investigator for the defense went on a local radio show late last year to argue Shelby’s side of the story. Back in the fall, a different lawyer for Shelby’s defense said he planned to argue she was temporarily deaf in the heat of the moment surrounding the shooting, and therefore did not realize backup had arrived before she shot and killed Crutcher.

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Shelby’s on-camera approach with 60 Minutes’ Bill Whitaker was markedly different from the tack her defense took on radio in December. Where her advocates were quick to vilify the man she slew and decry the decision to charge her, Shelby herself was more conciliatory in tone if not substance.

She agreed with Whitaker that Crutcher’s death was “avoidable” but ultimately lays the blame on the dead man.

“If he would have communicated with me, if he would’ve just done as I asked him to do we would not be here,” Shelby said.

Her trial is set to begin in May.