Standing just steps outside the front entrance of City Hall and holding a bullhorn to his mouth, Nate Morris accused the Tulsa Police Department of ignoring allegations of domestic incidents involving Betty Shelby that should have disqualified her from being a police officer.
“She was allowed by our city to carry a weapon and was paid to use that weapon to take the life of a father, a son, a brother, student and friend,” Morris said in reference to Shelby’s fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher in 2016. “They knew the risk, and they knew about Betty Shelby’s past, and they did nothing.”
Morris, a representative of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, was among a small group of community members and leaders who charged on Wednesday that Shelby was unfit to serve because of a past that included multiple domestic-related incidents.
A motion filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma by Crutcher’s estate documented an incident in which Shelby, then known as Betty Holycross, is alleged to have threatened her then-husband with a knife.
The document also reveals an occurrence involving Shelby, then under the name Betty Jo Charlton, in which she was accused of damaging a vehicle with a shovel, prompting the filing of a protective order against her.
A 2005 ruling in LeFlore County District Court awarded Shelby’s ex-husband custody of their son and daughter. Court records show that the children testified that Shelby physically abused them, but the judge presiding over the case found no evidence of abuse.
A petition for a protective order was filed against Shelby in 2001 by her ex-husband’s wife. It alleged that Shelby made harassing phone calls to the woman.
“Had the City undertaken even the most cursory background check, it would have discovered Officer Shelby’s long-time pattern of escalating interactions with individuals into aggressive, often violent, conflict and repeated instances of inappropriate and dangerous reactions to stressful situations,” the motion filed by Crutcher’s estate states.
Shelby was hired by the Tulsa Police Department in December 2011.
Kristi Williams, a community activist who also spoke outside City Hall, called for expansive police reform and policy change in the wake of practices that have compromised trust among the city’s African-American residents.
“We need policy change in this city regarding our police officers,” said Williams, who also questioned Shelby’s hiring despite her background. “How did she get through those cracks?”
Police officials declined to comment about inquiries related to Shelby’s employment.
At the gathering outside City Hall, former Tulsa Police Chief Drew Diamond, now executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, spoke candidly about law enforcement’s role in protecting public interests.
“They (police officers) are responsible for protecting the human rights, civil rights and the dignity of all,” said Diamond. “They should keep that message, and that message should be part of them.”