May 8, 2017 / 10:14 AM / 2 years ago

Jury selection starts for Oklahoma officer charged with manslaughter

TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) - Jury selection started on Monday for the first-degree manslaughter trial of a white Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man whose car had broken down.

Tulsa, Oklahoma Police Officer Betty Shelby, 42, charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, is shown in this Tulsa County Jail booking photo in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S., September 23, 2016. Courtesy Tulsa County Jail/Handout via REUTERS

The incident was captured on police video and viewed globally.

Betty Shelby, 43, could face between four years to life in prison if she is convicted of the September 2016 killing of Terence Crutcher, who was 40. The incident intensified scrutiny of the use of force by police and allegations of racial bias by law enforcement in the United States.

About 70 jurors answered questionnaires on various issues, including their knowledge of the case, previous experiences with law enforcement agencies and any potential ties to organizations that have taken a public stance on similar officer-related incidents.

Opening statements are likely to start on Wednesday and the trial is expected to finish by May 15, lawyers with the case have told local media.

In videos provided by Tulsa police, 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.

Police released one video taken from a police helicopter, with Shelby’s husband coincidentally on board, and another from a dashboard camera in a patrol car.

Prosecutors have said there was no reason for Shelby to fire on a man who was walking away from her with his hands in the air. They blame her for turning a routine traffic matter into a deadly confrontation.

“Officer Shelby acted unreasonably by escalating the situation,” an arrest affidavit said, adding that “she became emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted.”

A lawyer for Shelby has said she acted because she feared for her life, believing Crutcher was reaching into his vehicle for a weapon.

Shelby told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” last month that race was not a factor and her actions were driven entirely by the behavior of the man she shot, who she suspected was under the influence of the hallucinogenic stimulant PCP, or phencyclidine.

The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office said in a report in October that Crutcher had 96 nanograms per milliliter of PCP in his bloodstream at the time of his death on Sept. 16.

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray has said in court that Crutcher’s drug use the day of the shooting was not reason enough for Shelby, or any other officer, to resort to deadly force, the Tulsa World newspaper reported.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa, Okla., editing by Peter Cooney and Dan Grebler

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