An Oklahoma jury on Wednesday found a white Tulsa police officer not guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in a confrontation caught on video last September, stoking a national debate over racial bias in law enforcement.
Betty Shelby, 43, was acquitted after a week-long trial. She has denied race was a factor in the killing and insisted her actions were driven entirely by the behavior of the man she shot, Terence Crutcher, 40, after his car was left blocking a road.
Lawyers for Shelby have said she believed that Crutcher may have been trying to reach through a partially open window for a weapon in the vehicle when she shot him.
Police videos of the incident were seen globally, and some civil rights advocates have argued that race was a factor in the fatal shooting. Rights advocates saw the Crutcher case as another in a string of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of the police in the United States that has spawned periodic protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the videos, Crutcher can be seen with his hands in the air shortly before he was shot. Tulsa police have said Crutcher was unarmed and there was no weapon in his vehicle.
Shelby told the jury that she was taught during law enforcement training that if a suspect reaches into an area like a car, an officer does not let them pull their arm back because they might be holding a gun, the Tulsa World reported from the court room.
She said the first time she fired her weapon on duty was when she shot Crutcher, who did not speak during their encounter, according to court testimony from officers on the scene.
Prosecutors have said there was no reason for Shelby to fire on a man who was walking away from her. They blame her for turning a routine traffic matter into a deadly confrontation by acting unreasonably and escalating the situation.
The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office said that Crutcher had 96 nanograms per milliliter of the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his bloodstream at the time of his death.
Prosecutors have previously said Crutcher’s drug use was not reason enough for Shelby to resort to deadly force, media reports said.