Jury acquits Tulsa police officer in shooting of unarmed black man

Jury acquits Tulsa police officer in shooting of unarmed black man

A jury has acquitted of first-degree manslaughter a white Oklahoma police officer who said she fired out of fear last year when she killed an unarmed black man with his hands held above his head.

The family of Terence Crutcher burst into tears and reacted with outrage after jurors found Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby not guilty in the September 16 shooting.

A lawyer for Ms Shelby said the officer was "elated" that the jury found her not guilty. "She's ready to get back to her life," defence lawyer Shannon McMurray said.

Ms Shelby looked stone-faced when the verdict was read, but Mr Crutcher's family was quickly ushered out of the courtroom.

About 100 demonstrators gathered in a plaza outside the courthouse on Wednesday evening in peaceful protest at the verdict. They chanted: "No Justice, No Peace. No Racist Police".

Ms Shelby said she fired her weapon out of fear because she said Mr Crutcher did not obey her commands to lie on the ground and appeared to reach inside his car for what she thought was a gun. Mr Crutcher was unarmed.

Prosecutors told jurors that Ms Shelby overreacted. They noted Mr Crutcher had his hands in the air and was not combative - part of which was confirmed by police video taken from a dashboard camera and helicopter that showed Mr Crutcher walking away from Ms Shelby, hands held above his head.

Ms Shelby's lawyers argued that in the two minutes before cameras began recording the encounter, Ms Shelby repeatedly ordered Mr Crutcher to stop walking away from her and get on the ground.

Ms Shelby also said she feared Mr Crutcher was under the influence of PCP, a powerful hallucinogenic known as Angel Dust.

An autopsy showed PCP was in Mr Crutcher's system, and police said they found a vial of it in his vehicle.

Mr Crutcher's family said police attempted to "demonise" Mr Crutcher over the drug possession to deflect attention from the fact officers did not find a gun inside his car.

The killing of 40-year-old Mr Crutcher was among a spate of officer-involved shootings in recent years that helped galvanise the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted calls for more police accountability.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler charged Ms Shelby six days after the shooting. An affidavit accused her of "becoming emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted".

Ms McMurray argued that prosecutors rushed to charge Shelby for political reasons, fearing civil unrest like the angry street protests that erupted in Charlotte, North Carolina, after the fatal shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott four days after Mr Crutcher was killed.

AP

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