The first-degree manslaughter charge for a former Oklahoma police officer will be removed from her record because she was acquitted in the killing of an unarmed Black man, a judge ruled Wednesday.
All documents related to ex-Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby’s case will be sealed and kept with the court, ordered District Judge William LaFourtune, NBC Washington reported. Shelby petitioned in August for her record to be expunged after jurors acquitted her in the September 2016 killing of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, which ignited outrage and protests from Black Lives Matter.
The ruling meant that Shelby can legally say that she wasn’t prosecuted, Tulsa World reported.
Shelby’s case can still be read and is accessible through a court order, but the case can be destroyed after 10 years, according to state law. A judge can order all or part of the record unsealed if there are compelling reasons.
The government and law enforcement will have access to the record due to Shelby likely disclosing the crime on job applications. Agencies, however, will not be able to find the case in background searches, Shelby’s defense attorney Shannon McMurray said.
“Like any other citizen who is acquitted, Betty Jo Shelby was entitled to have her record sealed and expunged,” McMurray said. “Betty … continues to work to try and serve her community and prays for everyone’s continued healing.”
Shelby encountered Crutcher, whose SUV was stalled in the middle of a street, during a patrol last year. Crutcher appeared to be under the influence of drugs, disobeyed police commands and looked as if he was reaching inside his vehicle, Shelby testified at her May trial. Videos from a patrol car dashboard and police helicopter showed Crutcher with his hands in the air when he was shot.
Prosecutors unsuccessfully contended that Shelby’s use of deadly force was not warranted.
Shelby was reinstated to the Tulsa Police Department two days after the acquittal. She returned in an administrative role, but later resigned after she said she felt isolated from other officers on the force in July. She was later was sworn in as a reserve sheriff’s deputy at the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office in Claremore, which is about 30 miles northeast from Tulsa.
Crutcher’s estate has a pending federal civil rights lawsuit against Shelby, Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan and the city of Tulsa. His death highlighted the “culture of violence by police against people of color,” the suit said.
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