TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Attorneys for a white Oklahoma police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man last year are acting unethically by bringing up testimony that hasn't been allowed in court, a prosecutor said Friday.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said attorneys for the officer are trying to influence public opinion by alleging that a veteran homicide sergeant told the top prosecutor he filed an unwinnable case because there wasn't enough evidence to support a charge.
"If we allow ourselves to attempt to influence people outside the judicial process, we erode the very integrity that the criminal justice system is built upon," Kunzweiler said Friday in a brief interview.
Officer Betty Jo Shelby has pleaded not guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the September shooting death of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher. She is due back in court Wednesday.
Prosecutors say Shelby acted unreasonably because Crutcher wasn't armed or combative when she approached him on a north Tulsa street after his SUV broke down and obeyed orders to raise his hands.
Shelby's attorneys say she shot Crutcher because she feared for her life, believing Crutcher was reaching into his vehicle for a gun.
Defense attorney Shannon McMurray said prosecutors were quick to charge Shelby as "a political move to try to quell whatever civil unrest they thought was going to occur."
"They just offered her up as a hysterical female," McMurray said Friday. "Come on, people."
Crutcher's Sept. 16 shooting was captured on video from a police helicopter and a dashboard camera. The footage showed Crutcher walking away from Shelby with his arms in the air, but the images don't offer a clear view of when Shelby fired the single shot.
Shelby's attorneys filed a motion on Jan. 11 asking a judge to dismiss the case for lack of evidence. Attorneys told the court that a homicide sergeant would testify that he advised detectives there wasn't enough evidence to support a criminal charge and that Shelby was within her rights to use deadly force to defend herself.
The officer's attorneys weren't allowed to ask those questions during a November preliminary hearing when Shelby was bound over for trial.
Prosecutors responded Wednesday, claiming defense attorneys are "attempting to score points with the public and the media instead of making legal argument to this court."
A spokeswoman for the Crutcher family didn't immediately return a call seeking comment on the case Friday. Crutcher's attorneys have previously said that Shelby should be held accountable "for her unlawful actions."