A former police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man in Tulsa, Okla., in 2016 will not face federal civil rights charges, the Justice Department said Friday, noting that it had found insufficient evidence to prove she had willfully used unreasonable force when she killed him.
Betty Shelby, a white officer who worked for the Tulsa Police Department at the time, said she shot Terence Crutcher in September 2016 in self-defense because she thought he was reaching into his car for what might have been a weapon. Video of the episode showed Mr. Crutcher holding his hands above his head when he was shot.
On Friday, the Justice Department said it had found insufficient evidence to prove that her use of force against Mr. Crutcher was “objectively unreasonable” under the definition set by the United States Supreme Court.
“Any allegation of law enforcement misconduct and willful deprivation of civil rights is taken seriously,” R. Trent Shores, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, said in a statement. “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.”
Damario Solomon-Simmons, a lawyer for Mr. Crutcher’s family, said the decision highlighted the shortcomings of federal civil rights law.
“Part of the problem is the bias in our system against African-Americans, but the problem is also how the law is structured,” he said in an interview. “It is almost an impossible burden to prove a federal civil rights violation, so it sets up the scenario where you get these disappointing but not surprising results.”
Mr. Solomon-Simmons said the family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the City of Tulsa in June 2017 seeking monetary damages and injunctive relief that would require reform in the Police Department. The lawsuit is pending, he said.
“The lawsuit is seeking to show that Terence’s civil rights were indeed violated when she shot him with his hands up in the air,” he said.
Ms. Shelby declined to comment through her lawyer, Shannon M. McMurray. But Ms. McMurray welcomed the Justice Department’s decision.
“We have always believed and stated that with the proper investigation and looking at all the facts and circumstances surrounding the shooting, Officer Shelby would be cleared,” she said in an email. “First, by the jury and now the Department of Justice.”
Ms. Shelby was found not guilty of manslaughter in connection with Mr. Crutcher’s death in Tulsa County District Court in May 2017. She was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting and left the Police Department after she was acquitted.
Soon after, she began working as a reserve deputy for the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office, about 30 miles from Tulsa, the sheriff, Scott Walton, said in an interview.
Last week she became a full-time employee stationed at the courthouse, the sheriff said. He said he had “no reservations whatsoever about hiring her.”
“She has done a fine job and I am thankful to have her as part of our operation,” Mr. Walton said. “I’m not trying to be a cowboy here, I am just saying Betty continues to do her job and it is certainly my opinion that she served the community in Tulsa well.”
Mr. Solomon-Simmons said he was alarmed by the prospect of Ms. Shelby continuing to work in law enforcement.
“I believe Betty Shelby, based on what she did to Terence on Sept. 16, 2016, is not worthy, nor does she have the capacity to be a police officer,” he said. “I worry for any community where Betty Shelby has the cover of law, the ability to carry a gun, the ability to arrest individuals and the ability to take people’s lives legally.”