In 2016, Tulsa officer Betty Shelby was in a fatal officer involved shooting that ended up in the international media hot light…and ended up with her being charged with manslaughter less than a week following the shooting.
You’ll remember the incident. It was caught on tape from a police helicopter (being piloted by her husband, Officer Dave Shelby)…and on cruiser cam.
It began as a report of a stalled vehicle and culminated with the shooting death of motorist Terrence Crutcher, who had been outside his SUV acting erratically and refused officer Shelby’s commands NOT to return to the vehicle. She fired once and Crutcher, shot in the lung, died. A toxicology report later showed the 40 year-old man had not only PCP in his system, but also traces of a similar hallucinogenic drug, Tenocyclidine, a more powerful psycho stimulant than PCP.
A vial of PCP was recovered from Crutcher’s front seat.
Officer Shelby, a certified drug recognition expert, felt from the get-go Terrence Crutcher was on drugs. Ultimately Officer Shelby was acquitted of manslaughter charges, but not before enduring the hell of the trial and innumerable threats of violence and challenges she had never thought she or family would face. She described them to me for our training program “SI46 – Betty Shelby and Surviving the Aftermath of a Fatal Officer Involved Shooting” by breaking it down into four key segments: Emotional, Legal, Financial and Physical. She urges all cops to listen carefully:
“The advice that my husband gave me many years ago when I said ‘Hey, honey, I want to be in law enforcement.’ He said, Okay, well, two things that you need to do. Right off the bat one, if they have deferred comp, you need to sign up for it. Number two, if they offer F.O.P. legal defense, you need to sign up right then. So I did. That’s one of the things that I, I did right from the very beginning. Part of our training throughout whatever Academy that we’re given. The advice that is given to all of us, is kind of standard, is you separate the officer that’s involved in the shooting from everyone else. And immediately legal representation needs to be called. Not to say that the officer has done something wrong, but the officer needs representation right from the beginning, for any type of use of force.”
She pointed out that even if you do everything by the book, there can still be huge challenges.
“Folks don’t realize how much that they need to have legal representation and legal defense already set up for them. Because they’re, they’re thinking, okay, as long as I follow my policies and procedures, as long as I follow my training, and I follow the laws, then I’m fine. Well, what they don’t realize is that, yes, you can follow your policies and procedures, you can follow your training all to the tee and follow the law and still be faced with criminal charges, just like I was, I really, really highlight that they need to have something like the F.O.P. legal defense to cover them for when they are on duty. And now there are other prepaid legal defenses that can cover them for when they’re off duty, but we’re really focused on the officers while they’re on duty and what they need to have covered for him because one of the statements that was made by the judge in my case was, theoretically, an officer can follow their policy of their agency’s policies and procedures, they can follow their training to the tee and still be convicted of first degree manslaughter.”
If the Shelby’s hadn’t had legal protection under the F.O.P. umbrella, she says it would have cost them a cool million dollars in legal fees and, likely, broken them. The potential for violence against the Shelby’s became so real, that they ultimately had to leave their own home.
“Well, one of the physical things that we discussed was our decision to have to leave our home. That kind of shocks the officers going ‘Wow, really you had to do that?’ Yes, we do. We had received intel that Black Lives Matter had formed a posse and we’re en route to our home to affect a citizens arrest by any means necessary on me. So, David and I had to have a real talk about what do we do? Do we stay in our home and stand our ground? Or do we pack what we can and take who we can and go to a safe place? So Dave wanted to stay. He’s like ‘No, this is my home. No one is going to harm my family in my home.’ I said ‘Hon, I understand where you’re coming from but I think that we should leave and not make a situation that could turn so bad. I think it would be best for our safety and our family.’ So, we we made the decision to pack a few things, gather what family members we could and go to a safe place. And so that’s one of those things that officers go ‘Wow, I didn’t think that something like that could ever happen.’ And that then made them also think, what would I have to do to get ready? Because one of the things that we have is farm animals. We have a small little farm. And that particular day, I had to admit I had to make a decision. I will take my dogs but all of my farm animals I had to turn loose and hope that they are there when I come back. So like when we go to talk to officers in rural areas, not only do they have a law enforcement job, but quite a few of them have ranches or are big, bigger operation farms, and they’re like what do I do with my my cattle? Now this is a real serious decision that they have to make that they didn’t even think until I told them our situation. They went ‘Wow What do I do with my cattle? What do I do with my animals?”
There is so much more to our training video with the Shelby’s, as Mas Ayoob of American Hand Gunner wrote “It is a ‘must-see.” You can preview the program at lineofduty.com. You can also get a video download and DVD for purchase through the online store. With all the nuttiness going on these days, many officers are finding themselves in situations that may not totally replicate the anguish the Shelby’s endured, but can definitely mirror it in so many ways. Check it out, you won’t regret it. And for all your online video training, we’ve got a free two-week preview of it. Visit lineofduty.com , click on the prominent red tab that says, simply, get a free trial. That’s Stuff You Never Ever Learned at the Academy. Thanks for bending an ear, and thanks for being there on the Thin Blue Line during the storm.