Killings by Police Tulsa

In this Aug. 10, 2017, file photo, former Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby is sworn in as a reserve deputy for the Rogers County Sheriffs Department in Claremore, Okla., at the Rogers County Courthouse. Civil rights leaders are calling for a homicide detectives group to rescind its invitation to speak to Shelby, a white Oklahoma law officer acquitted in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man. (Jessie Wardarski/Tulsa World via AP, File)

An Oklahoma officer who was acquitted in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man was planning to speak at an upcoming law enforcement conference in Baton Rouge until organizers rescinded her invitation Sunday following backlash from civil rights advocates and concerns from local leaders.

Betty Shelby resigned from the Tulsa Police Department after she was charged with manslaughter but later acquitted last year in the 2016 killing of Terence Crutcher. She has since been hired with the Roger's County Sheriff's Office in Oklahoma.  

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent a letter on Friday to state its opposition to Shelby's planned speaking engagement in Baton Rouge, where she had been scheduled to discuss "Surviving the Aftermath of a Critical Incident" at the Southeastern Homicide Investigators Association 2018 training conference

"Deputy Shelby is not a victim of Mr. Crutcher's homicide. The late Mr. Crutcher and his survivors are the victims," the letter says. "Deputy Shelby's subsequent acquittal on manslaughter charges is not an exoneration of her decision to kill an unarmed man."

Local law enforcement leaders also expressed concerns about ongoing efforts to mend tensions between police and the public after the traumatic events of summer 2016, including the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling and subsequent ambush on law enforcement that killed three officers and wounded three others in Baton Rouge. 

The association hosting the conference then issued a statement Sunday afternoon saying leaders had rescinded her invitation after "careful consideration of all perspectives of national, state and local leaders."

Association leadership said they wanted to present Crutcher's case so conference attendees could "decide what they might do in the same situation had they been the lead investigator.

"We realize now there are people around the country who do not understand why we would present this case," the statement says. "The fact is, every homicide investigator at our conference is one phone call away from one of these types of investigations. ... We want our members to talk about these cases and feel confident they can do what they are called to do: make the right decisions for the victims each and every time." 

NAACP Legal Defense Fund leaders note in their letter that Shelby conducted a similar training in Tulsa a few months ago, "only days after Mr. Crutcher would have celebrated his 42nd birthday." Crutcher had his hands up when Shelby shot him during an encounter. The officer said she thought Crutcher was reaching into his SUV. 

The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office hosted that training and received criticism from local officials and faith leaders who argued that choosing such an instructor for the class was a step backward for race relations in the area, the Tulsa World reported in August. Critics described the decision as "tone deaf" while organizers claimed the course helps law enforcement officers understand the "potential aftermath ... following a critical incident."

Responding to the news that Shelby was no longer invited to the event in Baton Rouge, the NAACP's Louisiana branch in a news release thanked Baton Rouge residents and leaders — including Police Chief Murphy Paul and East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III — for "standing firm and speaking out."

Moore said Sunday night he had spoken at length with Paul and other state and local law enforcement and community leaders who agreed that "it isn't the right time and place to have this conversation now in Baton Rouge." He said their stance arose from shared concerns about the events of summer 2016 and their lasting impacts.

"The community is still recovering. We're building trust and relationships but we still have a long way to go," Moore said. "But that's not to discount the importance of having these conversations in due time. ... We welcome everyone's input in discussions about homicide — including officer-involved shootings — this just wasn't the right time for Baton Rouge."

Moore also credited Paul for his efforts to persuade the organization to rescind the invitation. Paul could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Conference organizers also acknowledged those concerns in their announcement Sunday.

"We understand this community has taken strides to heal its relationship with local police and we want to support those efforts," association leaders wrote. "We appreciate the opportunity to be here and we want to be respectful to every city our conference visits."

An estimated 350 investigators from across the southeast U.S. will attend the conference, which will be held Monday through Thursday at the Hilton in downtown Baton Rouge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.