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Who Is Betty Shelby? Tulsa Officer’s Drug Use, Domestic Abuse Past Resurfaced

Betty Shelby's mugshot. Image courtesy of the Tulsa County jail.

Betty Shelby’s mugshot. Image courtesy of the Tulsa County jail.

On Thursday, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler announced a charge of first-degree manslaughter against Oklahoma Officer Betty Shelby for her role in the Sept. 16 shooting death of Terence Crutcher.

Shelby, a white officer, shot and killed Crutcher, a Black man, while responding to calls of a stalled SUV blocking the road Friday. Police footage of the deadly incident showed the father of four with his hands in the air as he walked back toward his broken down vehicle. Moments later, another officer at the scene fired his Taser at Crutcher, after which Shelby let off a single round from her gun.

“Shots fired!” she could be heard yelling over police dispatch.

Unanswered questions and missing details prompted the DOJ and Tulsa Police Department to open an investigation into the deadly shooting. Crutcher’s case is the latest in a string of police shootings involving Black men being investigated by the federal government. Meanwhile, the media has started an investigation of its own — into officer Shelby’s past.

According to NBC News, the Oklahoma officer’s past — tinged with incidents of domestic disputes and illegal drug use — isn’t squeaky clean, as is often assumed of law enforcement officials. Shelby began her career with the Tulsa Police Department in 2011 after working as a deputy in the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office since 2007. Before that, she briefly served in the Oklahoma National Guard, the news site reports.

Digging into her personal life, Shelby has divorced and remarried once. Her current husband, who is a police officer as well, was actually on duty the night she fatally shot Crutcher, the Huffington Post reports. Ironically, he was also in the helicopter that flew overhead and captured the moments leading up to the deadly shooting.

At one point in the recording, an officer could be heard describing Crutcher as a “big bad dude.” According to NBC News, Shelby didn’t hear the disparaging comments because they weren’t said over shared radio communications. A Tulsa PD spokesperson has since confirmed it wasn’t Shelby’s husband who made the remarks.

A job application submitted to the sheriff’s office in 2007 also showed that the new wife of Shelby’s ex-husband filed a restraining order against her in 2002, after the woman claimed she made harassing phone calls. The order was ultimately denied, NBC News reports.

“The Judge saw that I was not guilty of the accusations made against me,” the Tulsa officer wrote on her application.

Shelby also disclosed that, in 1993, she and her former boyfriend had damaged each other’s cars during their breakup. Temporary restraining orders were also filed in this case but later dismissed.

According to the Huffington Post, Shelby is now a drug-recognition expert, which her attorney, Scott Wood, said she completed training for. During her ill-fated encounter with Crutcher last Friday, the Tulsa officer asserted that he appeared to be high on PCP and refused to obey her commands.

“He had a very hollow look in his face, kind of a thousand-yard stare, so to speak, and would not communicate,” Wood said. “And she (Shelby) could tell he was not normal. She thought that when she saw him.”

Shelby said she feared for her life, despite the fact that Crutcher was unarmed. A vile of the dissociative sedative was found in his car, however, but authorities are unsure whether he was under the influence of the drug at the time of the shooting.

On the same application where she disclosed her past domestic disputes, Shelby also indicated that she had used marijuana once or twice when she was 18, according to NBC News.

In addition, Tulsa’s KJRH news reports that the officer had two excessive force complaints. However, she never received any disciplinary action while working at the sheriff’s office, NBC news states.

Shelby’s questionable past being pushed to the forefront is an ironic turn of events, as defendants and victims of color are usually the ones whose rapsheets and not-so-clean histories are dug up and plastered all over the news. Though her infractions are minor, similar offenses are almost never glossed over in incidents involving Black citizens.

The Tulsa officer turned herself in Friday after a warrant was issued for her arrest. Shelby was booked into the Tulsa County jail and released on $50,000 bond.

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