September 24th, 2016

The Tulsa shooting and the mind of Officer Shelby

Now, that’s a pretty presumptuous title, isn’t it? How can I presume to talk about what was in the mind of Officer Betty Shelby when she shot Terence Crutcher in Tulsa a week ago?

The answer is: of course I don’t know. Of course I am speculating here, and everything I say in this post should be read with that caveat in mind. But my speculation isn’t idle, either; it’s based on statements made by Shelby’s own lawyer and by the police as to her state of mind, as well as the fact situation as reported. For the purposes of this post I am ignoring the statements of the Crutcher family and/or their lawyers, and focusing instead on what information is available from Shelby’s own side and from the police.

Why am I writing this? After all, isn’t it premature, because we don’t know enough? Absolutely. But this particular case grabbed my attention from the start, because it is one of the seemingly more extreme examples of a shooting that appears unjustified. To me, what may have happened in this case has little to do with the other cases that people lump in with it—Ferguson and Charlotte and Zimmerman and the ones I listed in my Legal Insurrection piece and all the other Black Lives Matter causes célèbres—although of course they are used in the same way to score political points. But they all have different fact situations that point to different conclusions about exactly what was going on in each.

My interest in the Crutcher case was especially piqued at the outset:

[Shelby] asked Crutcher whether the car belonged to him but got no response, the attorney said. Crutcher began walking toward her with his hands in his pockets. She politely asked Crutcher to take his hands out of his pocket while they were speaking, Wood said.

“He does comply and puts his hands out of his pocket, and then puts his hands up in the air, which she thought was a little bit strange under the circumstances,” he said.

Really? Did it ever occur to her that with all the recent violence he might have been wanting to show her he was completely harmless and cooperative?

In retrospect, that reaction of hers seems even more significant to me. It occurred right at the start of their interaction, when Shelby was trying to piece together what was happening in the strange scene she came upon: a car in the middle of the road, empty but running (some reports say the doors were open, some not; some say she encountered Crutcher before the car, some say it was the other way around). When Shelby talked to Crutcher he was unresponsive, and she had to decide what that behavior of his meant. There were a large number of possibilities, some benign (deaf, distracted, having a health problem) and some not (purposely uncooperative, hiding something).

All along the way, Shelby was trying to make sense of things. All along the way she had choices, and for whatever reason (we don’t know why) she kept choosing the most negative one.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I’m well aware that police officers have a very difficult task in this regard. Not only do they often come on a scene that’s hard to interpret and yet they must make sense of it, but they always—and I mean always—must keep in mind the worst possibility, which usually would mean the possibility of violence and perhaps even serious or fatal violence at the hands of the citizen or citizens they encounter.

But that goes with the territory of police work, and to do that work you must have the temperament to handle it. If that ever-present possibility of sudden violence spooks you too much—and it would certainly spook me—then find another line of work and don’t be a cop. Please don’t be a cop. Because whether you’re interacting with a black person or a white person or a man or a woman, you don’t know what you’re dealing with and you have to act reasonably in response.

Do you think that word “reasonably” is unfair? Do you think it’s one of those tricky legal words that are designed to trap you? Well, it’s an imperfect standard, like all the rest, but it’s the best one I can think of and it’s—well, it’s reasonable. Reasonableness is based on the totality of the situation, and in the case of Crutcher we have quite a bit of information about his own behavior, both at the outset of the encounter and throughout it, and that behavior contains (by Shelby’s own report) not a hint of a threat, aggression, violence, or physical resistance.

On the other hand, Crutcher was consistently spacey and cloudy. Sometimes he was nonresponsive or answered in mumbles. However, he was often responsive to commands, too, although not always. The picture is of someone either having a health crisis, nervous, mentally challenged, or under the influence of a drug that had a downer rather than upper effect (whether or not the toxological tests show PCP or another drug is irrelevant, because all Shelby had to go on at the time was his behavior, and I am relying here on her own reports of his actual behavior).

What did Shelby think Crutcher’s hands in the air meant? Consciousness of guilt? I really don’t know, and she hasn’t said (that is, her lawyer hasn’t said; she herself has made no statements and would not have been expected to have made any).

Here’s more of Shelby’s account of what happened in their first encounter and up to the time she called for backup. We have no video and no way of knowing it this is true, but it’s the only information we have and we can assume it’s also the narrative most favorable to her, because she’s the one telling it, according to her lawyer. I will alternate excerpts with my comments on each excerpt:

[Shelby’s attorney] Wood said that Shelby then said to Crutcher, “Hey, is this your car?”

Crutcher didn’t respond, simply dropping his head while continuing to look at Shelby, “kind of under his brow,” Wood said. Crutcher then began to put his hand into his left pocket, Wood said, adding that Shelby told Crutcher, “Hey, please keep your hands out of your pocket while you’re talking to me. Let’s deal with his car.”

Crutcher did not respond, Wood said, so Shelby ordered him again to get his hand out of his pocket. He then pulled his hand away and put his hands up in the air, even though he was not instructed to do so, which Shelby found strange, Wood said.

I’ve already described that last part, but let me add that Shelby doesn’t report telling Crutcher not to ever put his hands in his pockets, or tell him why he should not do so and the extreme importance of not doing so. According to her own report, she specifically tells him that he should not put his hands in his pockets while talking to her.

Shelby tried to get Crutcher to talk to her, but he simply mumbled something unintelligible and stared at her, Wood said. He then turned and walked to the edge of the roadway and turned to look at her, his hands still in the air, Wood said. He put his hands down and started to reach into his pocket again, Wood said, and she ordered him again to get his hands out of his pocket.

Remember that at this point, Crutcher had put his hands in the air voluntarily. He and Shelby had also stopped talking. So putting his hands down again, and “starting to reach into his pocket” (we don’t know exactly how close he got to his pocket, or whether she just felt he was moving his hand or hands in that direction), was actually not disobeying her commands, at least not according to her own version of what commands she had given.

At this point, Shelby, a drug recognition expert, believed Crutcher was “on something,” Wood said, possibly PCP.

Shelby then radioed in that she had a subject “who is not following commands.”

“You can kind of hear a degree of stress in her voice when she says that,” Wood said.

Thinking he was “on something” was a good bet of Shelby’s; there was certainly evidence for it. That “something” could have been almost anything, considering the symptoms he was exhibiting. Or it could have been due to some other mental or physical problem or disability. He was not following commands well, to be sure, but on the scale of people a police officer encounters on a regular basis he was by no means on the very difficult and certainly not the belligerent end of the spectrum. And yet, even according to her lawyer, Shelby was not remaining cool; she was stressed enough that it could be readily heard in her voice.

Shelby then pulled out her gun and had Crutcher at gunpoint as she commanded him to get on his knees, Wood said. She pulled out a gun instead of a Taser because she thought he had a weapon, and she was planning to arrest him for being intoxicated in public and possibly obstructing the investigation, Wood said.

I have no idea whether a gun pointed at the detainee would have been standard police protocol at that juncture (previously, there had also been some question as to whether or not she was equipped with a taser; it turns out she was, but chose the gun instead). I was listening to a cable news show a day or two ago and heard an interview with an NYPD police officer (unfortunately I have no idea who it was) who maintained there was no urgency about this arrest. He said that Shelby already had Crutcher’s license plate number, and police could almost certainly have located him later if they wished to charge him. There was no evidence of a weapon except for this very intermittent hand in or near pocket, which could have benign explanations. The NYPD officer suggested she should have gone to her car, radioed for help, and waited for the backup under those circumstances and that there was no urgency whatsoever and no need to take the risks she was taking.

To continue:

Shelby ordered Crutcher to stop multiple times as Crutcher walked toward the SUV with his hands up, Wood said.

But those orders cannot be heard in the audio from the dashcam video, which starts as another patrol car pulls up to the scene, showing Crutcher walking toward the SUV with his hands up as Shelby follows him, apparently with her weapon drawn and pointing at Crutcher.

Shelby follows him with a gun pointed at his back. His hands are up the whole time, and she reports ordering him to stop but we cannot hear these orders. Could he hear them? Would the dashcam have ordinarily have picked up the audio if the orders were given? Again, I don’t know the answer to these questions. By then the other officers have arrived on the scene; were they speaking to her, and if so could she hear them? We don’t know, but they would be able to testify about that, and I assume they will.

Wood continues:

“As a police officer, you have to wonder — why would someone ignore commands at gunpoint to get to a certain location?” Wood said.

But we also have to wonder whether Crutcher heard the commands, or whether she could have expected him to have heard them. You also have to wonder whether he knew he was at gunpoint—after all, his back was to her the whole time. But even more importantly, if (like Shelby) you already think you know he has a gun in his pocket, you have to wonder why would he then be going to the car to get a gun?

In addition, Shelby had actually examined the driver’s side of the car earlier, according to reports, and had looked inside. There could not have been a gun in plain sight there or she would have noticed it. If he had a gun in his pocket (we know of course that he did not, but Shelby didn’t know it) why go to the car for another? Did she think he thought he needed two guns?

In other words, Shelby interpreted Clutcher’s reaching for his pocket a couple of times to mean he had a gun in it. She acted on that by pulling her own gun. By then she was agitated and frightened. And yet Clutcher had done nothing aggressive, either verbally or physically (although this didn’t mean he didn’t have a gun, of course). Although Shelby was nearly sure he had a gun on his person, when he then started walking towards the car she suddenly switched to thinking he was going to the car to get a gun. She had based her idea that he already had a gun on his behavior of reaching towards his pocket, but somewhere along the line she transferred the thought “he has a gun in his pocket because he sometimes reaches for his pocket” into “he’s got a gun somewhere, because this is a guy with a gun.”

In my Legal Insurrection post I wrote, as a partial explanation:

..[P]olice are trained to be very aware of the dangers that can be involved in allowing a person to return to his/her vehicle, and this knowledge was likely to have influenced Officer Shelby when Crutcher began what turned out to be his final walk.

As Bob Owens at Bearing Arms notes, a well-known police training video on this subject involves the shooting of police officer Kyle Dinkheller, who was killed in 1998 by a man he had stopped for a speeding violation named Andrew Brannan. After demonstrating extreme verbal aggressiveness, and after being hit (but not subdued) by Officer Dinkheller with his baton, Brannan went back to his vehicle, got a rifle, and killed the officer.

I am assuming that Shelby may have seen that video during her own police training. If so, it may have made a deep impression on her and perhaps given her the idea that, in and of itself, going back to a car was something to prevent at all costs. In the video, the pre-shooting behavior of the killer is very different from Crutcher’s, almost from the very start. He is extremely aggressive over an extended period of time before the killing. But (and this is a guess) something about the video may have contributed to Shelby’s extreme fear.

Do you think I’m overdoing it when I refer to her “extreme fear”? I’m not making it up, because here’s more of her story:

Crutcher’s arms came down [sic—apparently it was just his right arm that came to rest at his side], and he turned to face the car, Wood said, and he reached into the driver’s side window with his left hand [there is some evidence, however, that the car window may have been closed]. That’s when Shelby fired one shot and a fellow officer, Tyler Turnbough, deployed a Taser, Wood said.

Shelby believed that when Crutcher attempted to reach into the car, he was retrieving a weapon, Wood said. In her interview with homicide detectives, she said, “I was never so scared in my life as in that moment right then,” according to Wood.

Again, recall that her conclusion that Crutcher was dangerous was based on the idea that he had a gun in his pocket, which in turn was based on the fact that he had sometimes put his hand or hands in his pocket or towards his pocket. But now she is sure he is going for a gun in his car instead—a car she had previously looked into or “cleared,” although she had not searched it thoroughly. And she reports that she “was never so scared in her life” as at that moment.

Shelby has now been charged with first degree manslaughter:

“Officer Shelby reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation from a confrontation with Mr. Crutcher, who was not responding to verbal commands and was walking away from her with his hands held up, becoming emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted,” said the affidavit released with the charges by the District Attorney’s office. “Although Mr. Crutcher was wearing baggy clothes, Officer Shelby was not able to see any weapons or bulges indicating and (sic) weapon was present.”

The affadavit makes for interesting reading in another respect. It mentions that Shelby was told by Officer Turnbough (the officer who fired the taser) that he had his taser ready. Did she hear him? Did they speak at all? Was she aware of her surroundings anymore, or was she in such a state of extreme emotional agitation that she wasn’t noticing anything but Crutcher’s hands, convinced those hands would be the instruments of her death?

If my reconstruction of Shelby’s state of mind is correct, I have further questions. Was there any earlier indication she was the type of person who would have had a panic reaction? If so, was anything done about it? I have read statistics that indicate that women police officers are less likely to be involved in shootings than male officers, so it’s not a simple matter of female vs. male. Was race part of her reaction? It’s certainly possible, but I’m not at all sure it would have had that much effect because a Tulsa police officer would have been quite used to encountering black people on a regular basis and she wasn’t shooting at them willy-nilly. My guess is that something about Crutcher’s inconsistent demeanor mystified and then frightened her, and his size (he was a very big man) factored heavily into her fear, as well.

From what we know so far, it seems as though the DA made the right decision in charging Sehlby. As further facts emerge—and I have little doubt that they will—we should learn much more.

71 Responses to “The Tulsa shooting and the mind of Officer Shelby”

  1. Yancey Ward Says:

    I think you are making too much out of her thinking first there was a gun in his pocket, and then a gun in the car. All she really knows is he is behaving oddly, first reaching into his pockets after having been ordered not to, and then, perhaps moving towards the car. To me, believing he has a weapon in his pocket in no way whatsoever makes me think it is less likely he has one in the car. Believing in either of them doesn’t make it unreasonable to believe in both of them at different stages.

    As for her not seeing a gun in plain sight after looking into the car, that is meaningless- there are plenty of places inside a car that aren’t in plain sight. Indeed, if there had been a gun, it likely wouldn’t have been kept in plain sight.

    You will probably know more once the victim’s tox screen is done in week or two.

  2. J.J. Says:

    A nice analysis of this particular case, Neo.

    I agree that everyone of the BLM causes celebres are different in their details except for two things. One is that the victim has always been black. The other is that there has been some degree of noncompliance with police commands up to resisting arrest. My guess is that there is a number of white perps that get shot when they don’t comply with commands/resist arrest. But we don’t hear about them because white lives don’t matter.

    It seems to me it would be a public service for all people to be informed that, when they come in contact with the police, they should follow commands, be non-aggressive, not make any sudden moves, and take their complaints about the policemen’s behavior to the proper authorities after the event. I realize that this would be absorbed by most people who do not have a criminal mind set. Since criminal types don’t follow/respect the law, why would they follow instructions from or respect a policeman? My guess is that these types of shootings have always occurred, but are now being made an issue of for political reasons.

  3. neo-neocon Says:


    You are absolutely correct that it happens to white people, too. I’ve done research on it and found many cases, but you usually have to ferret them out because the politics surrounding them are very very different.

    I find many of these cases frightening, black or white. I had no idea how much total compliance was necessary or you stand the risk of dying, even if you haven’t been belligerent.

    The other problem is not just criminal types being noncompliant, but people who are ill, or cognitively challenged, or under the influence, or hard of hearing, or any number of things. Or just forgetful—if Shelby had said, “make sure you never put your hands in your pockets or I may have to kill you!” it might have focused his attention somewhat more.

  4. neo-neocon Says:

    Yancey Ward:

    You’re missing my point.

    Of course he could have had a gun in his pocket and in the car. But the only reason she thought he had a gun was that he sometimes put his hand in his pocket. If he goes to his car, that does not indicate it’s for a gun, particularly if he has one in his pocket. If there’s one in his pocket, he can easily use it. And if he isn’t reaching into his pocket for a gun there and doesn’t have a gun there, there isn’t much reason to suspect that this particular guy would have one in the car, either, since he’s shown no other signs of any sort of belligerence and they’ve already been interacting for about 2 minutes by then.

    If there were other reasons to think he had a gun somewhere (belligerence, for example) then it would make more sense to think one might be in the car. But there were no other reasons. The only reason was the “hand in pocket” thing.

    And of course there could have been a gun in the car that she hadn’t seen. But that goes to the question of what she actually needed to do, and when. At least wait till he actually reaches in. She killed him when he was just near the car.

    But the most important point is that there was no reason to follow him in the first place. None whatsoever. If she was that frightened she should have waited for backup. What’s more (and I didn’t mention this in the post) by the time all of this happened, she should have heard the police helicopter overhead, so she knew some backup was already there. Why did she follow him with a gun at his back?

  5. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    A very large, unresponsive subject who frequently ignores lawful orders. One who is almost certainly under the influence of drugs.

    A lone woman.

    A cop who must assume that she may have missed a gun in the vehicle, since her examination was of necessity cursory.

    A cop who must assume that the subject may have thought he had a gun in his pocket, rather than he suddenly having a craving for a stick of gum… and that under the influence of mind altering drugs, he has remembered that his gun may be in the car.

    As what innocent reason is there for going back to the car without saying anything? What person, in control of their mental faculties does such a thing, especially with a gun pointed at them? Whereas, what assumptions can be made about a man not in control of their mental faculties? And, are you willing to bet your life on that assumption? Because that’s the calculus that the cop has to operate under.

    A cop who must assume that any subject may get violent at any moment because to assume otherwise (based on what has happened so far) is to place their very life at risk.

    As in, “Murder suspect tries to snatch cop’s gun inside interview room”. But naturally, that suspect is innocent until proven guilty, right? So treating him suspiciously is unwarranted… right?

    Told repeatedly to stop, he ignores instructions, whereupon a cop has to assume that the odds favor criminality rather than innocence.

    Under these conditions, what normal person would not be anxious? And, since when did training confer perfection? Which is NOW the standard ALL cops must meet… Cops are dealing with scum every day and now they have to be perfect too? So now, cops are guilty until proven innocent…

    All of this will result in more Dinkwellers but also in the deaths of more innocents at the hands of criminals because the message this sends to other cops is that you’d better be provably right, every time or… your life is over.

    Shelby’s former life is over. Officer Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson police officer’s former life is over… etc., etc., etc.

    Welcome to America, where lawlessness now rules.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:

    Again, you’re missing the point.

    “Normal” people would be anxious at most of the situations cops encounter. Most people choose not to be cops in part for that very reason.

    Cops cannot get anxious and therefore trigger-happy, or every noncompliant person stopped by a cop would be dead.

    Plenty of other reasons to go to the car. For example, he had earlier reported to someone that he left the car in the first place because he thought it was smoking or about to blow in some way. So there’s that. He also apparently had a vial of PCP in the car (that’s been reported, anyway). He could go back to try to hide it. Although that’s certainly not an innocent reason, it’s not serious enough to be killed over. He seemed as though he was ill and/or confused, and my point (which I’ve now made several times) is that there was no reason to have followed him if she was that anxious and panicked by the situation.

    Why do you think the other officer only used a taser?

    And if you look at the Dinkweller tape you’ll see a very very different perp with a very very different attitude.

    And no, you don’t have to be provably right—there did NOT have to be a gun to justify her shooting him. She had to reasonably believe there was, and in the indictment it stated why that belief of hers was not reasonable.

    Nor, by the way, was Crutcher a suspect being interrogated in an interview room. He was a guy who had left his car in the middle of a street and seemed confused. Very different circumstances.

  7. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    neo @ 5:19,

    Your rationale is perfectly reasonable from the standpoint of a law abiding citizen and, would very probably get you killed if you were a cop. They can’t stake their lives on probably. On, a subject hasn’t done anything yet.

    If Shelby had never pulled her gun and Crutcher complied/ignored her directives and then opened the door (which the video clearly shows) and, had it turned out that he was going for a gun (violent history)… by the time she saw it and at that distance, it would almost certainly be too late. Are you willing to risk your life on ‘probably’ and ‘almost certainly’?

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:

    No, it would not very probably get you killed if you were a cop.

    Do you really think most cops would kill this guy under these circumstances? The cop I saw interviewed certainly didn’t think so. I’ve read several websites that are cop-friendly where they don’t think so. And the officer who fired the taser certainly didn’t think so

  9. groundhog Says:

    I suppose this is a luxury police don’t have, but how many of these confrontations require immediate resolution?

    Maybe in this instance with a car in the middle of the road something had to be done right there.

    Why do incoherent or non-responsive people need to be challenged aggressively right away. Especially if they may not be otherwise dangerous.

    If you poke a beehive repeatedly and insistently because you aren’t getting a response…you will eventually get a reaction you don’t like.

  10. groundhog Says:

    If I come home and find a bear sleeping in my living room, of course it’s a problem. But I see no reason to start challenging it right away or poking at it if it’s just doing nothing. It doesn’t understand me either.

  11. Cap'n Rusty Says:

    As you said, reasonableness is based on the totality of the circumstances.

    FBI Table 43; Incidence of Criminality by Race

    Note especially the numbers for violent crimes.

  12. Bob_CA Says:

    Why did Crutcher park his car in the middle of the street?

    What was he doing wandering around the car?

    Crutcher reportedly had PCP in his car.
    “The technical descriptions of this drug (PCP) do not do it justice. The Drug Enforcement Administration states that this drug is a “dissociative anesthetic,” and that it distorts sight and sound and can create sedation, amnesia and detachment from the environment and oneself.
    But that clinical description misses the phenomenon of a PCP user who is having a bad reaction to the drug. A 1991 Los Angeles Times article on PCP abuse notes that the drug is dangerous “not just because of the hallucinations it induces but because it numbs pain in users and subjects them to very sudden, unpredictable swings in behavior which can sometimes include extraordinary acts of strength and violence.”

    Officer Shelby had every reason to be afraid for her life and to act in self-defense when he would not obey her commands. If someone tells me to keep my hands out of my pockets while I am talking with them, it it ludicrous to think that only means while the police are actually saying words.

    I think this is an over-reaction by a politically motivated District Attorney. I pray that Shelby’s trial goes before a fair judge like the one in Baltimore and gets thrown out of court.

  13. Ann Says:

    The thing that looks especially bad to me is that Shelby fired the gun not when she was all alone with Crutcher, but when she had three other armed officers by her side. You can watch the video released by the Tulsa Police Department here.

  14. harry the extremist Says:

    Hey Neo. Im glad you posted this because I was wondering what was going thru her mind as well. Im sure her reasonings for wanting to be a cop were noble and made with the best of intentions and now the horrible irony she could be ending up in jail. I bet she wished for those moments back and Id hate to be in her shoes, but I believe you’re right. The job was very probably a bad fit for her. It would be interesting to see what her service record was like.

  15. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “No, it would not very probably get you killed if you were a cop.” neo

    I’m not speaking just to this one instance but rather to the attitude you appear to be taking.

    In this case, had she acted as you assert and never fired, we don’t know if the cop with the taser would have fired either (charges of police brutality) and, IF Crutcher had been going for a gun, something the cops could not know was not the case, and then had he pulled out a gun from concealment, at that distance Shelby would not have had time to pull out her gun. And, IF he was on PCP or even if not, had the taser been fired, it might not have prevented Crutcher from firing and killing someone(s). As tasers are not always effective.

    That of course did not happen. But you are asserting that the cops should have acted upon the assumption that it was unlikely that he was going for a gun… based on what had happened so far.

    I’m saying that they can’t afford to do that because sooner or later what may, to all appearances seem to be uncertain will, after the fact, turn out to have been certain.

    I’m also saying that society is unreasonable in demanding that human beings assume what for cops is today, a suicidal level of risk. It’s also unreasonable because its impracticable, since compliance will result in cops ‘working to the rule’, doing the minimum to keep their jobs. Which we’re already seeing across the country; “Sudden Spike in Violent Crime Across US Raises Alarm” That story was written in June of 2015, it’s continued to rise since then.

    I’m not disagreeing that Shelby panicked and acted inappropriately. But it is after the fact analysis, that acts as if what turned out to be true was obvious.

    IMHO, Shelby made two mistakes; she didn’t wait for backup (I suspect because she was a woman trying to disprove assumptions that her gender naturally evokes) and, firing her weapon before the threat actualized.

    But waiting till a threat actualizes is a very high bar to ask. As example in this case, if he got to a gun with his left hand he could have concealed it between his body and the door and when he turned to fire, given the cops but a split second to react. And no, he didn’t do that but the cops can’t act as if its unlikely because then they’re betting their very lives.

    So having her weapon in a firing position was not a mistake. As given the circumstances, not having her weapon in a firing position would have been foolishly risking her life upon an uncertainty.

    I’m also highly doubtful that enough people can be found that meet that standard. Especially today.

    This IMO is not a simple slam dunk case of a panicked cop. As it goes to the very heart of what we, as a society are asking of normal human beings (and yes, cops are mostly just normal human beings). None of us are perfect but we are evolving toward a societal stance that demands perfection with the threat of societal and legal crucifixion if they fail. Few, if any are going to pick up that cross, instead they’ll do the minimum.

  16. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:

    You seem determined to either misinterpret and/or misconstrue what I’ve written, and I’m not going to go on indefinitely explaining essentially the same points to you over and over.

    But I’ll try, briefly, this one more time.

    You write: “In this case, had she acted as you assert and never fired, we don’t know if the cop with the taser would have fired either.”

    Irrelevant. The question is not what actually happened or did not happen. The question is whether her actions were reasonable based on what was the situation appeared to be at the time.

    She panicked and based on very little evidence she decided the situation was much worse than it appeared at the time or would have appeared to the imaginary “reasonable” cop under the same conditions. She also was told by the taser-wielding officer that he had his taser ready to go, indicating he was primed to taser this man if anything happened. Knowing that (a) Crutcher had never been the least bit aggressive or threatening, only somewhat confused; and (b) there was no evidence of a weapon (including no bulge, etc); and (c) the taser was there and ready to go, it is unlikely that a “reasonable” officer would have shot him. If that were the case, there would be tons more killing by police.

    And I repeat, there was no reason to have followed Crutcher at all.

    You also write:”had the taser been fired, it might not have prevented Crutcher from firing and killing someone(s). As tasers are not always effective.”

    That’s always true. There was no reason to think this guy had a gun in the car. There was perhaps a tiny bit of reason to think he might have one in his pocket, but that wasn’t why she fired; she fired because she thought he was going for one in the car. But since tasers never are certain to prevent people from anything, why do you think police are given tasers? At any time, anyone can reach for a gun, even if their hands are previously up, unless they are cuffed (did she ever try to cuff him, by the way?). So do we say cops should be allowed to shoot people any time they move their arms, perhaps for their pockets, which perhaps have a gun, because a taser could always fail? No, that’s not okay. Nor was this.

    You may think that police should always be allowed to kill someone who isn’t cuffed, because after all, they could always go for a hidden gun (doesn’t always have to be in the pocket, either) and it could always be so fast the officer wouldn’t be able to defend him/herself and tasers always can fail. But no, that’s not okay.

    You also seem to be harping on the idea that I’m saying her error was in having pulled her gun on him. Where do I say that? All I say about it is first to describe what happened, quoting her lawyer (“Shelby then pulled out her gun…”), and then I say, “I have no idea whether a gun pointed at the detainee would have been standard police protocol at that juncture,” and noted that she also had a taser but that she decided to use a gun.

    How do you get from that to some sort of categorical statement that she should not have pulled her gun out? I don’t say that; I didn’t even think it. After that, I describe a NYPD officer I saw interviewed who said at that point she should have radioed for help and stayed in her vehicle.

    You also write: “waiting till a threat actualizes is a very high bar to ask.” But I never say she should wait till a threat actualizes. However, she (and all police officers) must respond in a way commensurate with the threat that presents itself. I have heard and I have read quite a few pieces that indicate that she was not using a reasonable standard for response to this threat as it appeared at the time, and that is by the standards of her fellow police, and the standards of the way police are trained.

    Police must follow standards for the profession; I’m not imposing “normal civilian” standards on her or superman standards on her, just “reasonable police and police training” standards. And certainly not standards of perfection or of martyrdom.

    For example, see this [emphasis mine]:

    Police do, however, have some guidelines for when to shoot a suspect. For instance, research has shown that a suspect who comes within 21 feet of an officer can inflict harm before the cop has time to react (though some contest the validity of the “21-foot rule” in certain circumstances). So officers try to distance themselves from the suspect

  17. neo-neocon Says:


    Whether or not PCP was in the car is irrelevant, as I already stated. In fact, whether or not Crutcher had taken PCP is irrelevant, as I stated in a different post. What is relevant is Crutcher’s behavior. He was acting spacey and only intermittently cooperative, and that was about all. Not aggressive, not threatening.

    The ingestion of PCP can cause an enormous variety of symptoms—in fact, just about any symptom you can name. So any time a police officer comes upon a person who is acting anything but 100% sober and 100% rational, that person might have taken PCP. That person might be subject to PCP-induced mood swings. For that matter, anyone could be erratic and/or crazy and could attack an officer at any time for any reason, PCP or no PCP.

    The point (and I’m getting somewhat tired of saying the same thing over and over) is that the officer has to evaluate the person according to the circumstances as they present themselves. Shelby only knew that Crutcher was acting sort of spacey, subdued, out-of-it, and sometimes cooperative and sometimes not. That was all she knew. That was what she needed to act on, and that’s all that’s relevant in judging whether her actions were reasonable or not.

    Do you think it would be okay for police to assume that anyone who acts less than 100% alert and 100% cooperative is probably on PCP and may have a gun, and that such a person therefore should be shot immediately for any false move?

  18. neo-neocon Says:

    Cap’n Rusty:

    Reasonableness isn’t based on statistics and profiling, for the simple reason that most people—black or white—are not criminals.

    If a certain group—let’s say, black people—are more likely to commit crimes, that has nothing to do with the specific circumstances of each situation, which is what you must judge. In fact, if such statistics were the guide, you would never suspect anyone of committing a crime and you would let everyone go, because no particular random individual (black or white) is more likely than not to be a criminal.

    To take it a step further, men are far far far more likely to be criminals than women. And yet most men are not criminals. Police can’t judge a particular man as guilty just because men in general are so much more likely to commit crimes than women. Nor can they do the reverse for a woman—some women are indeed criminals.

  19. Frog Says:

    I’ve read Neo’s lengthy essay and just glossed over the 18 prior comments.
    There is one question Neo did not ask, which I have not seen answered either, which is
    Why did the 2nd officer, the backup with whom Shelby had not been in direct communication, Taser him simultaneously with her single gunshot?
    Either both officers were in disequilibrium, or neither was, and they were both responding to the same alarm stimulus.

  20. OM Says:

    “Either both officers were in disequilibrium, or neither was, and they were both responding to the same alarm stimulus.”

    The either or neither doesn’t follow al all. We know both responded, one with a taser one with the gun. Different tools/weapons, we don’t yet know why lethal force was used. Captain Obvious.

  21. huxley Says:

    I haven’t devoted much time to this case. It does sound bad. It does seem Shelby freaked out and shot Crutcher without sufficient reason.

    Of course I’m willing to let the dust settle and I’m content to let those who wish to do their own detective work proceed.

    I must say, though, if it is bad, it also seems inevitable that now and then police will make lethal mistakes like this. God knows I’ve made some boneheaded moves when under stress.

    I’m not sure what the takeaway from this case is.

  22. Mark30339 Says:

    A very interesting sorting of details. Would a more experienced officer handled it differently? Sounds like it since Crutcher wasn’t suspected of a violent crime. But should we only send out the most experienced officers to traffic matters? It’s open season on police, this odd traffic situation coupled with very odd behavior could easily be perceived as a possible ambush. And no doubt Shelby will claim she acted in justifiable self defense.
    What I read was that the taser ready officer and Shelby both fired at the same time. It would appear that Crutcher’s movement was sufficient to warrant a force response. If Crutcher has a weapon in his pocket, a car door can be used to obscure reaching for it. The cop is stuck with incomplete information. I’m not comfortable with concluding that Shelby’s response was criminal. She’s entitled to suspect a weapon from the very troubling behavior. I know Neo is expecting Shelby to have ice water in her veins — good luck with setting up that training manual. The only way to get experienced police officers is to start out with inexperienced ones.

  23. Yancey Ward Says:

    I think I understood your point perfectly- you are attempting undercut the idea that she could have reasonably thought he had a gun in the car because she already thought he had one in his pocket instead. However, that argument doesn’t really hold any water at all- for all you and I know, she might well have believed Cutcher thought his was in his pocket and returned to the car to find it.

    Having said that, I don’t think this shooting is justified at all, and I strongly suspect she accidentally pulled the trigger in her obvious anxiety. Neither story is really good for her- it is manslaughter in either case.

  24. neo-neocon Says:


    We don’t know for sure why he fired the taser, but there are several obvious answers, and they are not mutually exclusive either.

    Shelby had called for backup a minute or two earlier, and Officer Turnbough (the officer with the taser) was the backup who had just arrived. In Shelby’s call for backup, she had said she was dealing with an uncooperative and non-compliant person (suspect?) who might be on PCP or another drug/substance. When Turnbough (and the others) arrived, he/they did not have more than a few seconds to assess the situation independently, since they had just arrived. What Turnbough saw was the police officer (Shelby) who was frightened enough to have called for backup and given this report of a seriously non-compliant and drug-addled person she was dealing with. He basically was relying on her assessment of the situation as very serious, and apparently they had not conferred at all.

    What did he see when he arrived? A man walking towards his car with the female officer following close behind, a gun pointed at the man’s back. Turnbough had his taser at the ready because he almost certainly believed, based on her report, that the man was potentially very dangerous (Turnbough probably also thought Crutcher had been much more noncompliant than Crutcher actually had been). Turnbough said to Shelby that he had his taser ready, and when the man got close to the vehicle he fired the taser, thinking that would immobilize him and take care of the problem without harming him, and then it could be sorted out as to what was really going on here.

    Turnbough’s reaction was to the very same stimulus (going towards the car and then arriving at the car and possibly reaching towards the car), but since a taser is a relatively innocuous weapon that very seldom causes serious injury or death, the threshold for using it is much much MUCH lower than for using a gun. He could afford to fire his taser at a rather small provocation, which he did. He was not using “deadly force” (she was, of course), and there is a different standard for the use of non-deadly force. But he was also basing the seriousness of the provocation on Shelby’s prior description of the man.

    In addition, it is not clear that the taser and the shot were fired simultaneously. There’s been a lot of speculation about that, and about whether the taser came first. Some people even speculate that Shelby fired the gun accidentally when the taser went off, but she does not even appear to be alleging that, so I think we can discard it as a possibility. Some people think that Turnbough fired the taser as Crutcher approached the car and that that was what caused Crutcher’s arm to drop down and Shelby to then fire, rather than Crutcher’s arm movement coming first and causing Turnbough and Shelby to fire simultaneously. I would imagine that during a trial, the combination of studying the video and audio and the timing of it, plus testimony by Turnbough and others, will make some of this controversy about timing come clearer. It does seem pretty certain that both shots happened at least within close temporal proximity of each other.

  25. neo-neocon Says:

    Yancey Ward:

    There is no question that you—or I, for that matter—could think of some far-fetched reason she might think he would return to the car to get a gun even if he had one in his pocket (or thought he did). Hey, maybe the one in his pocket was less lethal, the one in the car more deadly. Or maybe he’d practiced more with the one in the car. Or maybe he had a bomb in the car, or anthrax.

    The point is what is reasonable, logical—reasonable and logical enough to use deadly force and kill a man because of it. Her mind was not working reasonably or logically, and it is unfortunate that she did not realize that and retreat to her car to wait for backup. Unfortunate for her, very unfortunate for Crutcher and his family, unfortunate for all of us.

    Also, you write that you “strongly suspect [Shelby] accidentally pulled the trigger in her obvious anxiety.” There’s one simple reason why there is no reason to suspect that at all, and that is the fact that Shelby herself has never alleged it, according to her lawyer and the affidavit. We have only heard that she shot him intentionally because she thought he was going to get a gun and kill her. If her defense was that the gun went off accidentally, why wouldn’t she say so?

  26. neo-neocon Says:


    Please read my response to Frog at 12:14 for a discussion of why Turnbough fired the taser, as well as a discussion of the much lower threshold for the use of a taser vs. the use of deadly force.

    And no, I certainly don’t expect any officer to have ice water in his/her veins. But I do expect that a situation like this one—which after all, was not one in which there’s a gunfight or a threatening perp or a felon coming at you (compare to the one Wilson faced with Michael Brown, for example)—should not occasion panic that makes the officer short-circuit. There’s something between ice water and panic, and that something allows you to function properly in a crisis despite being somewhat agitated. Shelby didn’t meet that bar, and that’s a problem with an armed police officer.

    All police officers carry guns. Guns can kill rather easily. That’s why police officers are trained in when to use them. Officers run risks every day, and they must be able to assess those risks to protect themselves and to protect others. It’s not easy, and it’s imperfect, but the “reasonable officer” standard is the one to use. Shelby does not seem to have met that standard. Officers will regularly meet up with people who are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, who have mental problems, who are confused, who have disabilities, and some of them will even have weapons. Many people officers encounter will be somewhat defiant and/or non-compliant—many. An officer must learn how to judge when it is necessary to use deadly force and when it is a bad idea; when to advance and when to retreat. Not perfectly, of course, but reasonably and in accordance with training and policy.

  27. Jakhny Says:

    I read your blog every day because I find you so fair-minded but I think you are not really understanding Yancey and Britain who think (correctly in my opinion) that under the circumstances reaching into the car was sufficient to reasonable believe that Crutcher was reaching into the car to get a gun. Your point about Shelby at first thinking that Crutcher was reaching into his pocket for a weapon does not mean that she could not have later reasonably thought that under the circumstances that he may have been reaching into the car for a gun. Its your blog and you can choose when you will when to stop defending your position but that does not make you right. Now what Shelby should have done before the reaching into the window situation occurred (assuming it did) is another point entirely as is whether she had the right to fire her gun when she did before she saw Crutcher’s weapon or at least saw his hand move from inside the car towards the outside.

  28. Big Maq Says:

    One sad observation, flipping between CBS and NBC on the morning news, yesterday morning:

    CBS: Did report that the officer in the Charlotte incident was black, but in the Tulsa incident, they did report that the officer was a white woman, and took the further step of showing a near full screen photo of her.

    NBC: Did NOT report the race of the officer in Charlotte, but, like CBS, mentioned the race of the Tulsa office and, again, a full size photo of her.

    Surprise! (not)

    These MSM outlets don’t seem to want to have a “fair” conversation about the facts like this article of Neo’s.

    Also sad is that it is just more fodder to feed into the trumpster angst that all is lost.

    “Our” side tends to have an automatic reaction that is opposite and equal to everything the MSM say.

    Instead, we ought to acknowledge the reality that there is a problem in our society with how quickly encounters with police can escalate to deadly force. It is not merely a problem for the black community (as BLM and the MSM would have us believe).

    We will never know how it might have went had Shelby taken a different course of action that didn’t require a showdown at gunpoint.

    But, it sure seems likely that other possible choices could have achieved what was needed without the death of someone who, it turns out, didn’t have a weapon.

    We are doing it wrong, if this is the case.

    If we don’t hold police officers, whom we authorize to use deadly force on our behalf, to a higher standard, then we have no standard.

  29. Big Maq Says:

    “If a certain group—let’s say, black people—are more likely to commit crimes, that has nothing to do with the specific circumstances of each situation, which is what you must judge. “ – Neo

    Unfortunately, this is what seems to get lost in discussions on both sides of the debate.

    It is why we have trial by jury in a process defined by laws.

    Otherwise, it would devolve to might makes right.

    Frankly, “our” side’s emphasis on color and not on the police behavior begins to look like Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem…

  30. Yancey Ward Says:


    She wouldn’t admit to accidentally pulling the trigger because that is an admission to manslaughter and negligence.

    We don’t have to imagine fanciful things going through her head- we actually have statements from her. We do two things in that case- we try to determine if she is lying; and then we take the statement as true, and ask ourselves if that a reasonable argument by itself.

    On whether or not she is telling the truth about what she was thinking, there is simply no way to know. Given the evidence presented, it is reasonable to believe she is telling the truth about her state of mind. Unless I am wrong, for which I apologize if I am, you seem to be arguing that her statements via her lawyer, that she thought he had a gun in his pocket undermines her statement about how she viewed his return to the vehicle. I simply don’t believe that argument undermines her story at all.

  31. Richard Aubrey Says:

    All things considered, it seems that any amount of non-compliance coupled to an approach to the vehicle would justify at the very least a high degree of concern.
    What to do with the concern? She was not in a position to restrain him physically. In fact, a cop of the size of the perp–generally speaking–is rarely in a position to restrain due to the prohibition of near-lethal techniques. That’s why you need two or more, to avoid the baton strikes which make terrible footage on the six-thirty news.
    I wouldn’t make much of the taser deployment until we know the sequence. It’s possible that both cops were so wired that the stimulus of one’s actions twitched the other’s finger. In that case, there’d be no judgment as if “if only the taser….”
    Being confused, high, hard of hearing, none of those should carry the death penalty. The problem is that we rarely know about them until afterwards while prior, they frequently seem threatening.
    I have a relation whose son had many difficulties due to mental illness and ultimately killed himself in jail. She is “out there” on the subject and supporting legislation that will help, probably, or not. But she has to do something in her anguish. One of the things she and her similarly-situated friends do is excoriate the cops for shooting somebody approaching them with, say, a knife if it turns out, afterwards, that the person was mentally ill. In some non-rational fashion, threats are not threatening if the threatener is mentally ill. They would not, of course, say that but it’s their emotional reaction.
    Neo’s good to try to keep it to Crutcher’s actions. But, as with Dinkheller, returning to the car is a very bad idea, notwithstanding PCP, hard of hearing, or some people just cannot react rationally to even a small amount of stress.
    But that means comparing Crutcher’s actions to those of the guy who killed Dinkheller is not relevant. A guy could be acting cool as a cucumber, to coin a phrase, while casually returning to the vehicle, professing to misunderstand a command–with a smile–to buy a couple of additional steps/seconds, then another non-threatening ploy….
    IMO, this was considerably more ambiguous than our kindly hostess makes it out to be.

  32. Bob_CA Says:

    Neo says:
    ” What is relevant is Crutcher’s behavior. He was acting spacey and only intermittently cooperative, and that was about all. Not aggressive, not threatening. ”

    He repeatedly did not follow her direct command to keep his hands out of his pockets and to stand still. That is threatening.

    Neo says: ” So any time a police officer comes upon a person who is acting anything but 100% sober and 100% rational, that person might have taken PCP. ”

    Straw man argument.

    Crutcher was acting far from normal. His spacey behavior is according to the reference I cited classic behavior for someone on PCP.

    Neo says: “The point (and I’m getting somewhat tired of saying the same thing over and over) is that the officer has to evaluate the person according to the circumstances as they present themselves.”

    Right and I disagree with you that a ‘reasonable person’ would assume that Crutcher was not reaching for a gun in the car. Officer Shelby had ample evidence that he was up to something and that she should be on high alert.

    “Do you think it would be okay for police to assume that anyone who acts less than 100% alert and 100% cooperative is probably on PCP and may have a gun, and that such a person therefore should be shot immediately for any false move?”

    I am also getting tired of saying this: Crutcher was very far from “100% alert and 100% cooperative.” PCP does enter into the equation because his behavior was consistent with it–much more than normal spaciness. What normal person parks their car in the middle of the street and then wanders around and ignores direct commands from a police officer? Her knowledge that PCP produces sudden outbursts of violence and super human strength indicates that she had to give him less leeway than someone who was behaving more normally. She was a reasonable person acting in self defense and the charge by the DA is politically motivated.

  33. jms Says:

    In the video, the pre-shooting behavior of the killer is very different from Crutcher’s, almost from the very start. He is extremely aggressive over an extended period of time before the killing. But (and this is a guess) something about the video may have contributed to Shelby’s extreme fear.

    The thing I find most striking about the Dinkheller video is not so much the suspect’s aggression but his crazy, detached, non-responsive behavior. I don’t know how this video is used in police training, but it seems fair to say that in addition to graphically illustrating how allowing a suspect to reach back into their car is life-threateningly dangerous, it also presents the suspect’s behavior patterns as life-threateningly dangerous.

    If, for the sake of argument, officer Shelby had been trained with this video, it seems possible that the “something” that terrified her was the gut feeling that the Dinkheller scenario was unfolding before her eyes, not because of the aggressiveness of the suspect, but by his non-responsiveness.

    This would be a problem. Non-responsiveness is not justification to shoot a suspect. If Shelby was responding to a memory of being trained with that video, then there might be a problem with using that video in police training.

  34. Bob_CA Says:

    The high probability that Crutcher was on PCP is particularly relevant because it is well known that tasers and pepper spray are ineffective on individuals on PCP.

    Los Angeles police department study of taser only 67% effective when suspects are under the influence of PCP

    Man feels no pain as hit with taser, pepper spray

  35. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Non-responsiveness is different from non-compliance. When the compliance demanded is to stop what the cop thinks is threatening behavior, there is a problem.
    That said, I know two plain-vanilla, mid-middle class in every category imaginable people. Reasonably successful in life. But if they’re caught out in a sudden rain, they come close to brain freeze. “sudden rain” being a metaphor for even the slightest stress from an unforeseen source.
    One, having come on an accident, was told by another person to call 9-11. Did not, continually yelling, “I don’t know what to do.” Told over and over. Same response.
    Hate to think of a traffic stop….

  36. Charles Says:

    If you go to YouTube and enter “police negligent discharge” “police accidental shooting,” or anything similar, you will get videos of the most remarkable examples of poor gun handling. Police firearm training seems to encourage the officer to draw his weapon in circumstances in which drawing the weapon is not justified, and they seem to be taught to put the trigger finger on the trigger as soon as the pistol is out of the holster. Cooper’s four laws of gun handling are apparently not taught to police. What I think happened, Officer Shelby had her pistol pointed at Crutcher and had her finger on the trigger when she should have had her pistol pointed at the ground and her trigger finger on the side of the piece at most. Someone asked why Shelby fired at the same time the tazer was fired — a tazer is LOUD, loud enough to make the trigger finger jerk involuntarily, and most police pistols have triggers light enough for that to cause the weapon to discharge. (Does anyone know the make of her pistol?) But she says she fired deliberately — I think the police union told her and her lawyer, “Don’t say ‘it just went off,’ that doesn’t work, it just gets everyone angry and adds years to the officer’s sentence. The photo evidence is unclear enough we advise, go for broke. Claim the shooting is justified.”

  37. Charles Says:

    Sorry, I should not have guessed it was the police union, I just think someone advised them to go for broke.

  38. Yancey Ward Says:

    Charles, my theory, too. If she is lying here, it is in why the trigger was pulled.

  39. groundhog Says:

    Bob_CA Says: She was a reasonable person acting in self defense and the charge by the DA is politically motivated

    Even in a riot situation when people are running around throwing stuff at police and ignoring commands, the police don’t usually spray a hundred bullets into the crowd en mass.

    Why aren’t police allowed to gun down everyone in that situation? They don’t know who has a gun if anyone. Can you explain the difference in reaction?

  40. groundhog Says:

    real bullets that is, rubber bullets yes.

  41. IGotBupkis, "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses" Says:

    for all people to be informed that, when they come in contact with the police, they should follow commands, be non-aggressive, not make any sudden moves, and take their complaints about the policemen’s behavior to the proper authorities after the event.

    It’s racist to say it, but I’m suspecting white people more often than not don’t NEED to BE told this. If we do have a couple negative altercations, we get told it and LISTEN and/or figure it out on our own.

  42. IGotBupkis, "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses" Says:

    Bill Whittle has a video about why cops might, without being racist, have a legitimate statistical reason for an excess of concern for the dangers of interacting with blacks…

  43. neo-neocon Says:

    Yancey Ward; Charles:

    Negligent homicide (accidental pulling of trigger) carries a much lower maximum penalty than manslaughter one. If it is her defense, she would do well to admit to it.

    However, she probably (or rather, her lawyer) should not have discussed publicly any of it. She could prepare her defense later. However, as it is, she admitted to pulling the trigger purposely and thus set herself up for not being able to use the “accidental” defense later if she needs it, or at least to be impeached by her previous story if she tries to use it.

    Of course we can’t know for sure if she is lying or not. That’s a given. But my point is that she’s putting out her story and at no point has her story included an accidental shooting, even though that could be a story that would help her get a lighter sentence, if she is tried and sentenced. Therefore it is highly likely it did NOT happen that way.

  44. neo-neocon Says:


    Excess of concern is one thing.

    Using deadly force is another. Objective circumstances have to warrant the use of deadly force, and those circumstances can’t be “I was more concerned because he was black.” For the reasons already stated.

  45. neo-neocon Says:


    I understand what you’re saying, but it’s a bridge too far. The behavior of Crutcher as Shelby herself has described it (through her lawyer) and the behavior of the perp on the video are night and day in terms of demeanor and tone, things being said, etc. The Dinkheller perp wasn’t just non-responsive (silent, mumbling, not doing what you ask), he was belligerent, threatening, active rather than passive, challenging, and aggressive.

    I agree, however, that Shelby probably had seen the video and extrapolated wildly from it to principles something like this:

    (1) any noncompliance means the person is very very dangerous and has a gun
    (2) any effort to return to a car once out of it is means the person is getting a gun.

    The quality of the interaction other than that was probably ignored.

    Police officers always run a risk at any time that any person can have a gun, unless the person has been thoroughly frisked. Officers also always run a risk at any time that any person could grab the officer’s gun and shoot him/her with it unless the person is immobilized and cuffed. If she was that frightened and he was that non-compliant, and help was on the way, she should have retreated and waited. He was not threatening her or chasing her or attacking her in any way, and he had not committed any serious crime or as far as she knew any crime at all.

  46. neo-neocon Says:


    Not relevant. He was not acting like he needed to be subdued, nor did she know he was on PCP. She suspected it from some very non-specific symptoms. She needed to be wary, of course—as police officers always do when dealing with an ambiguous situation that could turn threatening. She did not need to pursue him at gunpoint. She needed to retreat to her car and wait for the backup.

  47. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey:

    But one of my main points is that his offense—or lack thereof—meant that there was no reason to pursue him. As the NYPD police officer I quoted said, she should have retreated and waited for backup if she felt he was that unpredictable. He had done nothing wrong in terms of violence or threats; everything else was just her fear. He had committed no crime of which she was aware. Backup was on the way (the helicopter was overhead as the last act of the drama transpired, by the way, and could have followed him from the air). Traffic had been blocked off, according to something I read (and according to what you see in the video).

    Her most dangerous course of action was to pursue him to the car. And in the absence of any sort of serious offense, it was unnecessary and unnecessarily risky.

  48. Yancey Ward Says:

    Negligent homicide (accidental pulling of trigger) carries a much lower maximum penalty than manslaughter one.

    No, in this case I think it would be manslaughter, still. Pointing the gun at him changes things, doesn’t it? It raises her level of responsibility to act with extreme care. Had she been pointing the gun at the ground and it went off accidentally killing him in a ricochet- that would be negligent homicide.

  49. neo-neocon Says:

    Yancey Ward:

    The terminology differs from state to state. I hadn’t looked up the actual legal terms used in the state of Oklahoma; I was talking more about the concept, and the fact that an accidental killing carries a lesser punishment than first-degree manslaughter.

    Looking it up more specifically just now, I see that the term that would actually be used in Oklahoma if her gun discharged accidentally most likely would be second degree manslaughter rather than first (she’s presently charged with first). See this:

    Oklahoma’s Second-Degree Manslaughter Laws

    Second-degree manslaughter (referred to as involuntary manslaughter in some other states) generally criminalizes homicides that result from recklessness or criminal negligence…Second-degree manslaughter occurs when a human is killed by an offender’s act, procurement, or culpable negligence if the killing doesn’t qualify as murder, first-degree manslaughter, or justifiable homicide…Punishable by imprisonment for between two and four years in the State Penitentiary, imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year, or by a fine of up to $1,000, or both a fine and imprisonment.

    For first degree manslaughter, the offense Shelby is charged with, apparently the minimum sentence is four years, which is the maximum for second-degree manslaughter. The range for that offense (manslaughter first degree) is four years to life. Big difference.

  50. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Going somewhat afield here; In a discussion of women in military combat arms, one ex-MP said that, when approaching a fight, the female MP tends to hang back, meaning her male partner is on his own until somebody else (male) arrives.
    It’s not out of the realm of reason that some females in such roles would be overzealous to counter the perception.
    Niggling here, choppers aren’t backup.
    Another niggle: How far does she have to retreat before, 1, she loses a useful view of the situation, and, 2, is that distance outside the effective range of a pistol? IOW, if she was so far back that, even if armed, Crutcher wouldn’t have been a threat? What could she see? What could she usefully tell arriving cops? Inches in bullets make a difference. They can kill beyond that range at which one can usefully aim. And you never know. When my father had a platoon in Germany, going down a street, he turned his head to get an ear out of the wind to hear better. At that instant, a sniper’s bullet blistered his cheek.
    And, had she retreated and waited for backup and Crutcher had started doing something immediately dangerous to her or others, she’d be out of position to do anything about it.

  51. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey:

    You may not have seen it, but in this comment of mine I offered this quote:

    Police do, however, have some guidelines for when to shoot a suspect. For instance, research has shown that a suspect who comes within 21 feet of an officer can inflict harm before the cop has time to react (though some contest the validity of the “21-foot rule” in certain circumstances). So officers try to distance themselves from the suspect.

    Crutcher was not a crime suspect, much less a suspect in a violent crime. As I’ve said many many times here, there was no particular problem if he happened to get away. However, there was no reason to imagine he would get away, for several reasons. One is that the road had been cut off from traffic. Another is that a police helicopter was hovering above. It was taking the video that we see. It could have tracked him. In addition, Shelby had his license plate number. Considering that this was no “fleeing felon,” there was no particular reason that he needed to be apprehended at that moment. I am also basing this assertion on an interview I saw on some cable show with an NYPD officer (don’t know his name) who said this is what she should have done, and he explained the reasons why.

    In other words, I’m not coming up with this idea on my own.

  52. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Two phases:
    1. Shelby figured something was amiss and she had to be involved in some fashion. What did she know or think she knew that would cover your objections?

    2. Once involved, what actions should that have required and how did her actions differ?

    Police departments are reducing the circumstances in which they do a high-speed chase when they think they can get you eventually some other way. What were Tulsa’s protocols on the “some other way” method of dealing with, presumably, mostly traffic stops? More precisely, when is a cop authorized to back off entirely and let some-other-way take over? If it’s good enough for traffic, it’s probably good enough for several other scenarios.
    Okay. Crutcher hadn’t done anything demonstrably wrong. But if he’s wandering around as if impaired, is a cop authorized to presume something’s amiss, if only that he might drive off while impaired?
    We don’t have to dare someone to think about the shoot/no shoot scenario as if they themselves are deciding. We can dare them to figure out what Crutcher was up to among several equally likely possibilities and then watch the fun.

  53. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey:

    See my comment right above yours, because it may answer some of your questions.

    Of course, neither I nor anyone else here is privy at this point to the internal policies of the Tulsa police department. I am basing what I am saying in that comment above on other sources, both general and from other police departments.

    However, we know that none of other police officers at the scene drew their guns, for example. We also know (as I said in my comment) that the road was already blocked off, so Crutcher wasn’t about to drive anywhere, and there was a helicopter above. She also had his license plate number.

    There are plenty of people wandering around in cities acting erratically. Police do not ordinarily track them all in case they might harm someone.

  54. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey:

    One more thing—

    As far as figuring out what Crutcher was actually up to, we know he had no weapons in the car. So he wasn’t going to get weapons.

    Here are the possibilities:

    (1) He was foggy and spacey and not really paying attention to Shelby, or not processing information properly or thinking straight, and going back to the car was just an example of doing something familiar and habitual.

    (2) He wanted to try to get away in the car (he apparently hadn’t noticed that traffic had stopped because the road had been blocked off).

    (3) He really did think something was wrong with his car (people had called into 911 originally saying he was saying he’d abandoned his car because it was smoking and he was afraid it might blow up). If so, he could have been checking on his car, and because he was so fog-brained he didn’t realize Shelby was tracking him so closely and didn’t realize that going back to his car would be seen as a deeply suspicious act.

    (4) He knew he had a vial of PCP in the car (it has been reported by one police officer that this was later found in his car, and although we don’t know if that was true let’s just imagine it was true). He knew he had served a sentence for drug trafficking from 2007 to 2011, and he was worried about the drug in the car and wanted to hide or destroy it.

    Those are four possibilities that come to mind right off the bat. But Shelby was not required to come up with them. The important question is whether a reasonable police officer would have considered him/herself to be in imminent danger, so much so that it was necessary to use deadly force.

  55. Ymarsakar Says:

    As I mentioned before, I reconstruct incidents like this using physical parameters, thus I don’t depend on testimony put into words. Now video and photographic evidence, that provides more detail, often times ones which reinforce or contradict other people’s testimony.

    Zimmerman’s video walkthrough for the police, is a good example. The police can’t just take his words or even the testimony of others, on what happened. They needed to see the environment, to see if the setting matched the logic of the testimonies. If it doesn’t, then somebody is either lying or the testimonies are inaccurate.

    That’s why grappling dangers and grappling range is important to reconstruct as well, to be included in the scenario.

    Because LEos have to get within grappling range to “arrest” someone, assuming the suspect isn’t just going to handcuff himself to a post or car, police safety tactics always prioritize this. Also, it’s even more dangerous for someone who is armed, because they can easily be disarmed while in grappling range and shot with their own gun. So even if the suspect has no gun, if the LEO has one, then that gun may not always be in their hands.

    As mentioned by others before, this kind of Police Safety tactics training indoctrinates and conditions LEO to save their own hides above all else, but also makes them more paranoid.

    To give you an example, it will make them more paranoid than me at times.

  56. Ymarsakar Says:

    From what I’ve reconstructed of the incident, Shelby got too high an adrenaline dump, her heartbeat increased to 180 or beyond, because she began to be certain that the suspect’s erratic behavior was due to PCP.

    This raised her warning flags, which began to consider the suspect a mortal threat to life or limb, because as I’ve written before, PCP is capable of turning a normal human into a warrior avatar. Resistant, if not immune to pepper spray and other non lethal force options.

    This “tunnel vision” also means Shelby was locked on to the target. When the target is walking away, Shelby is walking towards the target, even if she perceives him as a threat. Now normally if you want to safeguard yourself, you open the distance between yourself and the target, or hide behind cars and cover. Stall, wait for backup, etc.

    That’s one of my personal criticisms against military/police training that conditions too much fear triggers into people. It gets out of control pretty fast, especially the less experience they have in battles, wars, or similar life and death fights.

    The human instinct for survival doesn’t care about emotional promises or safety checks. It cares about certain solutions that back survival. Even though police force continuum might have needed the tazer or other non lethal force options to be used first, for Shelby, she probably knew that only a gun could reliably stop someone with PCP. Her grappling and unarmed skills certainly weren’t up to snuff, and may not be even if she had a male’s body. That may make little use to police tactics or bureaucratic legalise, but to a human’s survival mind, it makes perfect sense.

    Of course the problem here is that normally humans in this state would fight or run. They wouldn’t be stuck trying to “arrest” someone in Close quarters.

  57. Ymarsakar Says:

    If Shelby was responding to a memory of being trained with that video, then there might be a problem with using that video in police training.

    It’s pretty common military style conditioning, or what I would call operant conditioning.

    In the military, it’s probably more closely related to live fire drills. Making a person go without sleep or food, put stress on them, then train them to do something and see what breaks.

    Here the police use it to form a trigger in which the LEO recognizes signs of danger, then triggers off of that into a “have to shoot him or else I get harmed” scenario. Which is an easy trigger and justification to make a human pull a trigger to kill another human. A lot of people have frozen or refused to pull the trigger, and in their hesitation, they lost their life or limbs as a result. So military and now military police training, is designed to create automatic triggers, via operant conditioning, that shortcuts a person’s conscience or normal hesitation.

    The military, of course, inculcates a recruit into a whole different culture, to break them of their civilian views.

    The police culture, while not as omnipresent and powerful, is a powerful factor in creating this “LEO are allies”, everybody else are “potential criminals and targets” mentality. Most of it is probably union funded, but hey, SEIU is a good example of why cultural unity pays. Black Panthers too.

    While watching photos and videos of criminal action is far less traumatizing, it still fools the human brain into categorizing it as an “experience”. It isn’t, but the human brain will remember it as if it happened to you, if you have any empathy at least. The human brain gets excited by social violence, and engages the emotional cores. But when the human brain detects predatory violence, as in a cougar jumps on someone and snaps their neck with the fangs and jaws, the only thing engaged in our minds is “fear, fight, flight, or hide”. Normal people don’t really get excited and start having fun, watching that.

    They feel a visceral fear and awareness of danger, and don’t want to go there. The police videos of various scenarios, are designed to activate these emotions and adrenaline bursts, then condition the trigger reflex on top of that, so that the fear activates the “shoot to kill reflex”.

    This disengages the rational part of the brain, which as others have noticed, does produce a safer or faster reaction on the part of the LEO. It also makes the LEO into a kind of loose cannon that will kill anyone not designated first as an ally, including pets like dogs.

    In the military, the superior officer gives the weapons free release command. LEOs don’t have that safety trigger on them.

  58. Ymarsakar Says:

    It does seem pretty certain that both shots happened at least within close temporal proximity of each other.

    A human body will jerk sometimes when hit by that tazer electricity.

    If Shelby was tunnel vision locked on, any sudden movements would heighten her already state of fear.

    But the number of shots can also be explained by the fact that once the human brain recognizes the jerking as just jerking, not an attack preparation, the threat scale goes down. By that time, maybe too late. The reason the human visual cortex can process information that fast, is due to the higher heartbeat and the adrenaline mixture in her blood. Some people are so good at this, they can process more than 60 frames per second. 100 frames per second perhaps, or higher. What people often talk about when “time slows down”.

    Also when approaching cars in that fashion, I usually have a secondary escape plan. In that situation, it would be to crouch down and run behind the car as cover, then circle around and re engage the suspect. The more unaware the suspect is, the slower they tend to react to things like that. It’s never guaranteed that the target you see in front of you, is the only danger around. There could be snipers or other people who will just pop out and then suddenly become a danger. So figuring out how to use the car in front of me is important to pre plan any reactions I have.Trying to figure it out, after you are busy trying to categorize new threats, is almost suicidal, it is so slow.

    Under these conditions, what normal person would not be anxious? And, since when did training confer perfection? Which is NOW the standard ALL cops must meet… Cops are dealing with scum every day and now they have to be perfect too? So now, cops are guilty until proven innocent…

    They are when the police don’t even follow their own rules and force continuum. If they aren’t going to follow their own internal rules for justified lethal force, why should I be expected to obey them or their laws?

    Regardless of whether they fail under police or civilian or military standards, they have already failed the higher standards many civilian shooters assign to themselves.

  59. Ymarsakar Says:

    A lot of what people choose to use to criticize police, is merely the bare bones.

    Check out the ones that aren’t so easy to explain or argue about.

    That’s not the rare DV call that ends up in death by police, a lot of them somehow end up that way. I usually tell people that if they call the police for Domestic Voice, it’s sort of like a suicide check. Somebody may cash it out.

    The easy cases, used by BLM, can be defened by Bob in CA and others who were former police or sympathetic to LEOs.

    But they can’t deal with the corruption in the police forces, so no matter how they defend isolated incidents, it won’t improve the system. The system is not going to improve, no matter what people say about Shelby.

  60. Richard Aubrey Says:

    My question is, given what Shelby saw, what would be the appropriate action other than shooting the guy?
    Any attempt to remain close enough that shooting was a possibility is one possibility.
    To just leave and go on about one’s business is another, exaggerated, possibility.
    To retreat to a safe distance in case the guy had a gun is how far and what would she be able to do or tell other cops as they arrived? IOW, was she required by training or tactical sense to remain in view, which would mean remain within possible lethal range of a pistol?
    Cops do, in fact, interact with the spaced-out. It’s the, at least, social worker part of their job. It’s particularly important when the guy looks like he’ll get into a vehicle. If Crutcher were pure as the driven snow, save for being high, and the traffic stoppages were cleared, then he’d be off again, on PCP. It’s not something cops are supposed to leave alone.
    People who’ve looked at the video frame by frame, as used to be said in the days of film, have come to different conclusions. One is that Crutcher was raising his arm and had…a book in it…? he had an ankle holder which was empty. His wife was yelling, among other things, for him not to “do it”, whatever that meant.
    If the cops had backed off, all that would have happened is that a guy high on PCP would be driving around town.
    Last fall, my wife and I were rear-ended. We talked briefly to the guy. We presumed he’d follow us into the parking lot as the dispatcher suggested. Instead, he went off and rear-ended somebody else.
    Eventually, the cops showed up and took the accident report. Turned out they’d caught the guy, drunk and on drugs. “He didn’t want to go to jail,” said one cop.
    It’s God’s blessing that a guy who could hit two cars, each stopped at a light, didn’t kill pedestrians or bicyclists. It’s not something we want cops to ignore.

  61. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey:

    You are mixing up two cases. You are reciting the facts of the Charlotte (Scott) case, which I’ve never even blogged about. Completely different situation. This thread is about the Tulsa (Crutcher) case. I’ve written several posts about it, with videos. No allegation of a book, no wife screaming—that’s the other case.

    The Charlotte case has a completely different fact situation. You can see that, if the facts in Charlotte were as alleged, police waited for backup in a situation where the threat was far more obvious, and waited quite a while to shoot him even when he had a gun in his hand. Very different case.

  62. Bob_CA Says:

    Groundhog asks: “Why aren’t police allowed to gun down everyone in that situation? They don’t know who has a gun if anyone. Can you explain the difference in reaction?”

    In the demonstration situation neither the police officer nor someone else is in imminent danger of getting shot. If someone in the crowd was reaching for a gun, then the policeman should do what is necessary to stop him. I note your use of the loaded term “gun down.”

    In the case of Officer Shelby, she did have a reasonable fear that Crutcher was reaching for a gun in the car. I do not buy Neo’s sophistry claiming that Shelby had to be omniscient and to know during the altercation that there was no gun in the car or that the window was closed.

    As to why not back away– she could not back away fast enough during the encounter to avoid getting shot. Despite television shows, a car is not good shelter against bullets. Bullets can easily go through doors, fenders and other car body parts. Even an engine block leaves your legs and feet and any parts not directly behind it exposed.

    How about this for a fool proof way not to get your ass kicked (or shot) by police

  63. neo-neocon Says:


    In accusing me falsely of sophistry you yourself are guilty of it, misrepresenting what I have said. I never have said “that Shelby had to be omniscient and to know during the altercation that there was no gun in the car or that the window was closed. ” Never.

    Nor did I say she should have backed off once she was following Crutcher. I have made it very clear what I said, which is that she should have waited for backup and never followed him to the car, and I’ve explained why. I also have a post coming that explains it further.

    Cut out your own sophistry.

  64. Ymarsakar Says:

    As to why not back away– she could not back away fast enough during the encounter to avoid getting shot. Despite television shows, a car is not good shelter against bullets. Bullets can easily go through doors, fenders and other car body parts. Even an engine block leaves your legs and feet and any parts not directly behind it exposed.

    This is part of the “let’s make it into a battlefield, to justify officer safety tactics”.

    Using a car at a 90 degree angle as concealement, isn’t an option, because that allows the LEO to justify in their head that “since I’m approaching to arrest, if they do anything I don’t like, I can terminate the target without hesitation”.

    The option of keeping the officer safe without terminating the target first, is nullified by the “it’s a battlefield argument”. Of course in a battlefield, one wouldn’t walk up alone to a PCP warrior avatar alone if you had a choice about it.

    This promotes the police culture of a police state and it is reinforced by former police officers who do not want to improve LEO tactics. If the crim ends up dead and the officer is safe, that is considered Mission Accomplished to many police, who see the criminals as some kind of Enemy Number 1 to the public. They forget or never figured out in the first place, that countering an insurgency requires more than just terminating guerillas and fighters. They want to use the “it’s war, got to do what it takes”, while doesn’t actually use the strategies to win a war. Which is why they get stuck and can’t fix the problem, so they have to use propaganda to talk around it. Talking around it isn’t going to make police safer nor the neighborhoods safer.

    A PCP user’s primary danger isn’t his superior hip shooting gunslinger accuracy and speed.

  65. Ymarsakar Says:

    If the cops had backed off, all that would have happened is that a guy high on PCP would be driving around town.
    Last fall, my wife and I were rear-ended. We talked briefly to the guy. We presumed he’d follow us into the parking lot as the dispatcher suggested. Instead, he went off and rear-ended somebody else.

    Usually the police can end all crime and prevent it, if you give them enough power to become a police state. But under the US Constitution, police are prevented from stopping many crimes precisely because they have to guarantee people’s rights.

    It is up to the civilians to kill criminals, instead of allowing them into the legal system. When they outsource this to the police, the LEOs will naturally become trigger happy and begin executing everyone, regardless of whether they are a crim or not.

  66. Ymarsakar Says:

    How about this for a fool proof way not to get your ass kicked (or shot) by police

    Given that there are thousands upon thousands of police executions which bypass those rules, it’s a nice distraction Bob, but just like the previous time you got emotional about a drunk driver incident, it’s not enough to save your tribe in the US from itself.

  67. Ymarsakar Says:

    My guess is that something about Crutcher’s inconsistent demeanor mystified and then frightened her, and his size (he was a very big man) factored heavily into her fear, as well.


    It’s interesting you bring that up, since a person’s size would not affect the firepower in a gun.

    In one of the early threads, you also said that my bringing up grappling was irrelevant to this context.

    Because you were reading off witness testimonies instead of reconstructing the entire context, that’s what it would appear like, that it was irrelevant. Except here, it is very relevant a topic as to what motivates people to fear and react off that fear.

  68. neo-neocon Says:


    I meant that grappling itself was not an element here. Fear of grappling was most definitely an element. However, it was an element that would argue against her following Crutcher rather than for it.

    And it might have been an element even if Shelby had been a strong man. One officer against one PCP-crazed person (or person the officer thought might be PCP-crazed) is not an easy fight, and can be a dangerous one.

  69. Ymarsakar Says:

    I meant that grappling itself was not an element here. Fear of grappling was most definitely an element.

    Someone that has no experience or concept of grappling, cannot understand the fear of it either, rationally, absent witness testimony. Thus you can’t rationally reconstruct it unless somebody else brings up the topic first.

    Someone versed in the environmental context and dangers, can look at a photograph and reconstruct much of the potential sequence of events and their potential dangers, without a single line from any of the witnesses.

    However, it was an element that would argue against her following Crutcher rather than for it.

    Fear is irrational. Those who are controlled by their fear instead of using fear as just another tool like a gun or a pair of cuffs, can do all manner of things that make sense to them but which are irrational or even dangerous to third party observers.

    Which is why physical reconstruction is necessary, not reading words printed by the media or eye witness testimony.

  70. Ymarsakar Says:

    Fear is not such an easily understood emotion that humans can claim that everyone will remove themselves from their fear. That doesn’t always happen. For males, fear makes them become more aggressive often due to social violence competition. And females sometimes get this as well, if their environment and training are conducive. Tunnel vision has a similar effect as well.

    The human system can be conditioned to respond to fear one way as well. Police tactics is designed to get LEOs to move in a pre determined fashion to accomplish objectives, even if they are afraid. They are not given a choice in this manner, if they failed to perform, they would be fired, they would quit, or they would get punished until they reformed. Unlike civilians who chase down criminals to arrest them, they aren’t given free will on this. If police tactics condition a person to close the range to arrest a person and fear tells them to remove themselves from danger, often times a person will either freeze (do nothing) or they will find a way to compromise, approach while reducing the fear or by negating/protecting themselves from the threat.

    If Shelby was operating in a perfectly cold and rational mind set, she might have realized what her behavior signified.

  71. neo-neocon Says:


    But according to police protocol that I discovered when I looked it up, it seems that her training would likely have been to wait for backup in a situation with an unpredictable and uncooperative person who might or might not have a weapon, and who was not a suspect in a crime.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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