TULSA, Okla. — A white former Tulsa police officer who resigned after being acquitted of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man was sworn in Thursday as a reserve deputy sheriff in a neighboring county.
Wearing a firearm on her hip and dressed in a Rogers County Sheriff’s Office uniform, Betty Shelby took her oath of office at the agency in the nearby city of Claremore. While Shelby’s duties haven’t been determined, she will serve in a volunteer capacity and won’t be paid, said Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton.
Walton, who has been an ardent supporter of Shelby and a critic of the Tulsa County prosecutors who filed a manslaughter charge against her six days after the shooting, told reporters that Shelby’s first order of business will be to qualify on the gun range with a firearm, just like any other reserve deputy.
“It’s not a rinky-dink little deal where you just put a badge on and act like a police officer,” Walton said. “We’re looking at a police officer with 10 years of service. Betty comes to us as a certified police officer, a drug recognition expert; she teaches report writing.”
Reserve county deputy programs across the state came under scrutiny after the 2015 shooting death of an unarmed black man by a then-73-year-old reserve deputy in Tulsa who said he meant to use a stun gun instead of his firearm. The reserve, Robert Bates, was a fishing buddy and political donor to that county’s sheriff and who was found to have inadequate training. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to prison, and the shooting led to the resignation of the longtime sheriff.
Walton said that case led him to conduct a comprehensive review of his department’s training requirements that found it to be “squeaky clean.”
Shelby, 43, was acquitted of manslaughter in May in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher. Shelby was on patrol Sept. 16, 2016, when she shot Crutcher as he stood with his hands up near his SUV in the middle of a Tulsa street.
She returned to the Tulsa Police Department in an administrative capacity two days after her acquittal but resigned in July, saying she felt isolated from other officers. Her resignation also brought to an end an internal investigation into her actions.
On the day Shelby was reinstated, the foreman of the jury that acquitted her said in a court filing that if Shelby had thought to use her stun gun before Crutcher reached his SUV, the decision “could have saved his life.” The foreman wrote that many jurors were not comfortable with the concept of Shelby being “blameless” in Crutcher’s death.
Shelby testified that she was scared because Crutcher appeared to be under the influence of drugs, didn’t obey her commands and looked like he was reaching inside his vehicle. Prosecutors told jurors that Shelby overreacted, noting that videos from a patrol car dashboard and a police helicopter showed Crutcher had his hands in the air.
Shelby’s swift return to the force after her acquittal roiled some black Tulsa leaders; one minister called it “a slap in the face” at a rally the following day.
Shelby read briefly from a prepared statement Thursday after a judge swore her in, saying she was honored to work with county residents and with a sheriff “who is dedicated to ensuring justice for all, whether they are law enforcement or a member of our community.”
Her attorney, Shannon McMurray, said Shelby will speak to a group of about 3,500 officers at a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, at the end of the month about how to be prepared if they are charged in a police shooting. McMurray said being a reserve deputy allows Shelby to “pick her hours” she works and “just give back; that’s her dream,” but she has yet to say how far she’ll go through with deputy training.
“I don’t know if she’s going to go patrolling or anything, that’s not in the future,” McMurray said.
Damario Solomon-Simmons, an attorney for the Crutcher family, said he couldn’t comment until he has consulted with family members.
Crutcher’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court in June against Shelby and the city of Tulsa. The suit seeks at least $75,000 in damages and calls for widespread reform in the Tulsa police department, including mandatory training for officers on managing suspects with mental health or substance abuse issues.
Walton said the feedback from other officers in the department and from the community has been overwhelmingly supportive of Shelby, and that hiring her on as a full-time deputy is a possibility in the future.
“It’s not a publicity stunt. It’s not a get-even deal,” Walton said. “It’s bringing in somebody with a passion for law enforcement.”
Murphy reported from Oklahoma City.