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May 23, 2017
[Blue Line Lawyer]

Why the Betty Shelby Case Matters

On May 17, 2017, a jury in Oklahoma acquitted Officer Betty Shelby of First Degree Manslaughter charges filed in connection with the September 2016 shooting of Terrence Crutcher. The shooting was captured live on video from a police helicopter. There are three critical takeaways from this case

First, at the time of the shooting, critics condemned her actions often stating that the shooting was “clearly not justified” based upon what they were seeing on the video. The helicopter was a few hundred feet off the ground over the scene. It is obvious that the camera was not showing Officer Shelby’s point of view. It was not only obvious, it was critical, but this did not stop her critics. Graham v. Connor requires that the use of force must be judged from the viewpoint of a reasonable police officer, not a reasonable person. Common sense dictates that we must at least be able to see some semblance of what the LEO saw prior to using force. It is clear the helicopter showed perhaps the only viewpoint Officer Shelby did NOT and could NOT have had.

Second, illegal drugs are more of a problem than any claimed deficiencies in law enforcement training. Crutcher tested positive for PCP. The helicopter pilot recognized his behavior was unusual stating, “looks like a bad dude, too-could be on something.” Crutcher’s car was also parked over the double yellow line blocking two lanes of traffic. He had his hands up walking away and ignoring commands, then he put his hands down and returned to the vehicle. Although a family member stated the PCP in his system is irrelevant because Officer Shelby did not know that, it is extremely relevant for two undeniable reasons: Crutcher showed signs of being on drugs and people on drugs, especially PCP, pose heightened threats to LEOs.

Finally, Officer Shelby will reportedly return to duty and reports vary on whether or not she lost nine months of pay. The jury found her actions questionable but not criminal. She will no doubt receive additional training and her agency has already stated that she will not immediately return to patrol duties.The department, and Shelby, will no doubt face a civil suit that will again investigate her actions that day. This is not an unusual set of circumstances in recent history. However, thousands of LEOs still remain unprepared to protect themselves in the event of an officer involved shooting. Join the Fraternal Order of Police Legal Defense Plan!

The DA reportedly questioned, in his closing argument, the reasons other LEOs on the scene told Officer Shelby not to speak with anyone about the shooting. We need to continue to educate people that all LEOs have the same rights to due process as private citizens, especially after an OIS. They have the right not to speak with criminal investigators. This case shows the lengths a LEO may have to go through even if their actions did not violate the law and her case was brought to trial relatively quickly.

Read up on this case. Consider that you could be in her shoes. Be prepared to go the distance to defend yourself. Stay safe.

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Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice about a specific issue or situation. Working directly with an attorney on your situation is the best method for navigating legal issues. If you have a concern about a specific issue or situation, you should seek legal advice without delay. Contact the supreme court or bar association in your state for assistance locating attorneys in your area.