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Tulsa Police Officer Will Face Manslaughter Charge In Unarmed Man's Death

Tulsa Police
Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by police in Tulsa., Okla., on Friday, in a case that has prompted a Justice Department investigation.

Betty Shelby, the Tulsa Police Department officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher, is being charged with first-degree manslaughter in the case, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler says.

Kunzweiler announced the charge Thursday afternoon, six days after Crutcher died in a controversial encounterthat was captured on video by a police helicopter camera and dashboard cameras.

Credit AP
Tulsa, Okla. police officer Betty Shelby, seen here in an undated official photo, is being charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of Terence Crutcher.

"A warrant has been issued for her arrest," and arrangements are being made with Shelby's attorney for Shelby's surrender, Kunzweiler said in a brief statement announcing the felony charge (see video from local TV news KJRH). He said Shelby will be taken into custody by the Tulsa County Sheriff's Department.

Saying that Crutcher's death "was on the hearts and minds of many people in this community," Kunzweiler praised the residents of Tulsa, saying the community "has consistently demonstrated a willingness to respect the judicial process."

Here's how we described the case earlier this week:

"Crutcher, who was black, died next to his SUV that had stopped in the middle of a two-lane road in Tulsa, Okla. Seconds before he was shot, police dashcam and helicopter footage shows, he had walked to his car with his hands held over his head as Officer Betty Shelby walked behind him, her gun raised. ... "Shelby, who is white, was one of four police officers who were standing at the rear bumper of Crutcher's car as he stood next to his vehicle around 7:45 p.m. Friday. She's also the officer who shot him once, in the upper body — and who then radioed, "Shots fired." Police say another officer used his Taser on Crutcher at nearly the same time he was shot."

When the Tulsa Police Department released police videos of the moments around Crutcher's death, Chief Chuck Jordan said the footage was "very disturbing; it's very difficult to watch."

We'll post one of those videos here, with the warning that the contents are graphic.

As the case drew national interest, Shelby's attorney, Scott Wood, told the Tulsa Worldthat the officer, who at 42 is a nearly five-year veteran of the Tulsa police force, believed Crutcher was reaching for something inside his car.

Chief Jordan dismissed the idea that Crutcher had a weapon, saying, "I'm going to tell you right here and now: There was no gun on the suspect or in the suspect's vehicle."

Noting that he had contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office about the case immediately after the shooting, Jordan added, "We will achieve justice in this case."

The U.S. Justice Department is carrying out a civil rights investigation into the case.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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