A Tulsa police officer charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man pleaded not guilty to manslaughter on Friday morning after her defense attorney claimed that during the high-stress incident she temporarily lost her hearing and was unaware other officers had responded to the scene to provide backup.
Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby appeared in Tulsa County District Court Friday morning but said nothing other than “yes” to indicate she was present in the courtroom, according to the Tulsa World.
The white 42-year-old officer is charged with manslaughter in the Sept. 16 shooting death of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher. Videos of the shooting, captured by a police dashboard camera and a police helicopter, were publicly released within days of the incident. The videos show Crutcher walking back to his car and standing next to the driver’s side door before he is shot, but they do not provide a clear vantage point when Officer Shelby opened fire.
According to the criminal complaint filed in the case, the officer told investigators that Crutcher had repeatedly refused to comply with her requests to get on his knees and that as he walked back to the car she feared he was going to kill her. A second officer had arrived on the scene and was standing nearby and ready to deploy a Taser when Officer Shelby fired a single shot that struck Crutcher in the chest and killed him.
No weapon was found in Crutcher’s possession but a vial of PCP was discovered in his car.
Officer Shelby’s attorney Scott Wood said because she was so hyper-focused on the incident in front of her, she never realized the second officer had arrived until after she fired the deadly shot.
“She didn’t hear the gunshot, didn’t hear the sirens coming up behind her just prior to the shot,” Mr. Wood told reporters on Thursday. “And it’s not only a common phenomenon described in literature, but it’s the No. 1 perceptual distortion by people I have represented who have been involved in shootings — diminished sound or complete auditory exclusion.”
He said Officer Shelby’s defense in the case won’t hinge on whether she was aware of other officers presence, but that it would be an important detail for jurors to know.
“It’s just one of the many facts that have happened, and I don’t think our defense turns on whether or not she knew they were there,” Mr. Wood said.
A preliminary hearing in the case has been scheduled for Nov. 29.