Federal Officials Close the Investigation into the Death of Terence Crutcher
The Justice Department announced today that there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against the Tulsa Police Department (TPD) officer involved in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher. Officials from the Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma met today with Mr. Crutcher’s family and their representatives to inform them of this decision. Mr. Crutcher was shot and killed during a confrontation with former TPD Officer Betty Shelby after he abandoned his vehicle in the middle of the roadway.
Following the shooting, a team of some of the department’s most experienced civil rights prosecutors and FBI agents conducted a comprehensive, independent review of the events surrounding the events of Sept. 16, 2016. Federal authorities examined all of the material and evidence in the State case generated by the TPD, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI), and the Tulsa District Attorney’s Office (DAO), including witness statements, audio and video recordings, dispatch records, crime scene evidence, ballistics evidence, and medical reports. Following Officer Shelby’s acquittal in State court, the Department reviewed additional evidence presented during the trial and the trial transcripts. The FBI also enhanced video footage of the shooting in an effort to increase the Department’s ability to analyze the circumstances of the shooting.
The federal review sought to determine whether Shelby violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Crutcher. Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a Constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities must show that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law. Mistake, misperception, negligence or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.
After a careful and thorough review into the facts surrounding the shooting, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of the federal statute. The evidence, when viewed as whole, is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Shelby’s use of force was “objectively unreasonable” under the Supreme Court’s definition, nor is the evidence sufficient to rebut her assertion that she fired in self-defense with the mistaken belief that Mr. Crutcher reached into his vehicle in order to retrieve a weapon. The evidence is also insufficient to establish that Officer Shelby acted with the specific intent to break the law.
Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed. This decision is limited strictly to the Department’s inability to meet the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statute; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the shooting.
“The Department of Justice devoted significant resources to this investigation to ensure that a thorough review was undertaken. Attorneys from both the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office worked closely with the FBI to examine the evidence and review applicable law,” said U.S. Attorney Shores. “Any allegation of law enforcement misconduct and willful deprivation of civil rights is taken seriously. However, the evidence in this case did not support pursuing criminal prosecution. Moving forward, I hope that citizens and law enforcement will continue to work together to better our community.”
The Justice Department is committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated. The Department aggressively prosecutes criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.