A wealthy insurance company executive and “pay to play cop” who has donated thousands of dollars in equipment to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office has been convicted of felony manslaughter after accidentally shooting a suspect with his gun instead of his Taser while volunteering as a reserve deputy.
Robert “Bob” Bates, the Oklahoma sheriff office’s 2012 Reserve Deputy of the Year, was arrested April 13, 2015, 11 days after he killed Eric Harris. Court records show that Bates was charged with second-degree manslaughter.
A jury found him guilty on April 27, 2016, the Tulsa World reports. The jury recommended he serve the maximum four years in prison, and Bates was taken into custody, the newspaper reports.
The shooting of Harris, who is black, by the 73-year-old Bates, who is white, was captured on a deputy’s body camera and released to the public, leading to calls for Bates to be arrested.
Bates became a reserve deputy in 2008 and served as a police officer for one year from 1964 to 1965.
“Mr. Bates is charged with Second-Degree Manslaughter involving culpable negligence. Oklahoma law defines culpable negligence as ‘the omission to do something which a reasonably careful person would do, or the lack of the usual ordinary care and caution in the performance of an act usually and ordinarily exercised by a person under similar circumstances and conditions,” Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said in a statement.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bates Says ‘I Shot Him … I’m Sorry’ & Another Officer Says ‘F**k Your Breath’ as Harris Dies
Harris can be seen in the video running from the police as the deputy whose body camera recorded the shooting chases and tackles him. As the deputy struggles with Harris, the reserve deputy, Bates, comes to the scene along with other officers. As the deputies are detaining Harris, Bates can be heard yelling, “Taser” and then a gun shot is heard and the gun Bates used drops to the ground.
Bates is heard on the video saying, “I shot him … I’m Sorry.” The other officers continue to detain Harris, who yells, “Oh s**t man he shot me, he shot me!”
Another deputy yells at Harris, “stop fighting,” as he screams in pain. One of the officers puts his knee into the back of Harris’ head. As Harris continues yelling “he shot me,” one of the officers yells at him, “you ran motherf**ker, you hear me! You f**king ran! Shut the f**k up!”
Harris cries “I’m losing my breath,” and the same unnamed deputy responds, “f**k your breath.”
Tulsa County Sheriff’s Major Shannon Clark told the Los Angeles Times the deputies didn’t hear the gunshot and were focused on Harris in “the heat of the moment.” Clark said the deputies didn’t realize Harris had been shot and thought he was complaining he was out of breath because he had run from them.
“It wasn’t his last breath,” Clark told the LA Times. “He died an hour later, and we’re not so callous to be like that.”
Clark said they don’t know why the body camera shut off less than a minute after the shooting, but said the deputy didn’t turn it off. What happened next wasn’t recorded on video, but Clark claims the deputies handcuffed Harris, sat him up to help him breath and applied pressure to his wound until EMTs arrived. He died about an hour later at a hospital.
2. Harris Ran After He Was Caught in a Police Drug & Gun Sting
Eric Harris, 44, who has six felony convictions, ran from police after he was caught in a drug and gun sting set-up by the sheriff’s office (watch video of the sting below).
Sgt. Jim Clark, of the Tulsa Police Department, was asked to investigate the shooting from the outside by the sheriff’s office, according to the Tulsa World. He’s not related to Major Shannon Clark, according to the newspaper. Clark said Bates was assigned to the drug task force that set up the gun deal. He was wearing street clothes, but was in a marked sheriff’s department vehicle. Clark said Harris was not part of the arrest team and was not near the sting. He joined the action when Harris ran from the deputies.
Clark old the Tulsa World the team was told that Harris was a convicted felon who had served time in prison for assault and battery on a police officer, had sold methamphetamine to a task force twice in the past week and was to be considered armed and dangerous.
Harris was not armed, but Clark said Harris “was absolutely a threat when going down,” because he hadn’t been searched. Clark said Bates left his vehicle with a pepper ball gun in his left hand and a firearm in his right hand. He saw an opportunity to stun Harris in the shoulder and thought he had holstered his handgun and drawn his Taser when he fired, Clark said.
No human being deserves to be treated with such contempt. These deputies treated Eric as less than human. They treated Eric as if his life had no value. Well, Eric’s life meant a lot to us. As a family, we have to try to accept the fact that one of the last things Eric heard before he died was ‘f— your breath!’ We cannot accept this. And, we, as a society, should not accept this type of behavior from our police and sheriff’s deputies who are sworn to ‘protect and serve.’
They also questioned Jim Clark’s investigation:
We believe that Sgt. Clark was hired by TCSP as an advocate to put the best possible spin on a bad situation. We also have reason to believe that evidence has been, or is being, concealed or destroyed. We demand a truly independent investigation by a third party with no connections to TCSO. Until this happens, serious questions will remain.
TCSO has every reason to want to protect Bob Bates. They claim the shooting was a justifiable mistake. They claim that Bob Bates did not violate any policy or law because he believed that he was discharging his Taser when he shot Eric in the back with his own personal .357 snub nose pistol. Is this a reasonable explanation? We do not believe that it is reasonable for a man who claims to have all the necessary training to mistake a pistol for a Taser.
We do not believe it is reasonable for Bob Bates to be carrying a gun that was not issued by TCSO. We do not believe it is reasonable — or responsible — for TCSO to accept gifts from a wealthy citizen who wants to be ‘pay to play’ cop.
We do believe something is deeply wrong with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
3. Bates’ Attorney Blamed the Arrest on ‘National Fervor’ & ‘Media Concerning Police Shootings’
Charles Brewster, an attorney for Bates, told the New York Times his client plans to plead not guilty. He said he is disappointed the district attorney’s office decided to charge Bates.
“I think it’s kind of a response to the national fervor and media concerning police shootings,” he told the Times. “I think he just kind of capitulated to that. This truly is an event that was unintended and what I consider to be a justifiable homicide.”
Brewster told the Times, “When you look at this man, his life’s work, he’s been nothing more than giving, trusting, and just trying to do the right thing.”
Another attorney for Bates, Scott Wood, told CNN his client is “upset over the circumstances.” He said:
We were hopeful that we could convince the district attorney that a charge of manslaughter really didn’t fit this factual scenario and that it was excusable homicide under Oklahoma law, but obviously the district attorney thought otherwise. (Bates has) had all the requisite training that the state of Oklahoma requires of a reserve officer, close to 300 hours over the last few years, plus all the training that he had before he became a police officer. Now obviously Tasers were not in use back in the 1960s, but he is Taser-certified, receiving that training in 2009. I would like to correct the record, Mr. Harris was not subdued at the time Mr. Bates tried to use his Taser. He was still on the ground, he was not complying with orders, in fact he resisted arrest ever since he jumped out of the cab of the truck and took off running. The announcement made by Mr. Bates, ‘Taser,’ is to let the other officers know on the scene he’s about to deploy.
Watch police and legal experts talk about the shooting on CNN below:
4. Tulsa Police Called the Volunteer Cop a ‘True Victim’
Sgt. Jim Clark of the Tulsa Police, who investigated the incident as an outside party, said Bates didn’t commit any crime or policy violation, according to the Tulsa World.
“He was a true victim of slips and capture,” Clark said, which he claimed is a scientifically proven phenomenon.
Clark told the media that “slips and capture” occurs in medicine, aviation and law enforcement when mistakes are made during dire emergencies or when someone is under extreme stress. He said the person believes they are doing one thing, but are actually doing something else, saying an officer can go into “auto pilot” or tunnel vision during a stressful situation.
He cited as examples trying to insert a car key on a steering column instead of a dash or staring at a spot on the wall where a clock used to hang. He said Bates using his gun instead of the Taser falls under the definition of slips and capture.
“He was not conscious of this unfortunate switch until after the shot was fired,” Clark said, according to the Tulsa World.
Then-Tulsa Sheriff Stanley Glanz, a longtime friend of Bates, described the shooting as an “error,” the Tulsa World reported.
“How many errors are made in an operating room every week?,” Glanz said. “It was unintentional. You know, justified means you had reason to do something. He had reason to get the gun out when the guy was fleeing.”
5. The Sheriff’s Office Says It’s Normal for Wealthy Reserve Deputies to Make Donations
Many have questioned whether Bates bought his way into the Tulsa Sheriff’s Office. He has donated thousands of dollars in equipment, including guns, stun guns and vehicles, to the sheriff’s office. He has also been a major political supporter of Glanz. He served as the chairman of Glanz’s 2012 re-election campaign and donated $2,500, according to the New York Times.
KRMG, a Tulsa radio station, acquired and posted a list of all the equipment donated by Bates since 2008.
There are 130 reserve deputies and they are deployed part-time throughout the department. They receive 320 hours of training with the Council on Law Enforcement and Training and 480 hours with the sheriff office’s Field Training Officer Program.
A sheriff’s department spokesperson said Bates had advanced training and could do anything a deputy could. He is not a member of the Violent Crimes Task Force, but often volunteers his time with them, according to the Tulsa World.
“Although he had training and experience for the arrest team, he’s not assigned to the arrest team,” Major Shannon Clark told the Tulsa World. “He came to render aid during the altercation, but he’s in a support role during the operation. That means keeping notes, doing counter-surveillance, things like that.”
Glanz said there are many wealthy donors who are reserve deputies, according to the Tulsa World.
“There are lots of wealthy people in the reserve program,” he said. “Many of them make donations of items. That’s not unusual at all.”
Bates’ attorney, Scott Wood, told CNN, “even he didn’t have any requisite training, I’d say it was an issue. But he has the training to be where he was and be utilized in the fashion he was used that way.”
The sheriff said he doesn’t plan to change the office’s policy on reserve deputies.
Glanz said told the Tulsa World that he doesn’t think Bates was too old to be a reserve deputy, adding that the office once had an 81-year-old deputy.
“I am 72 years old, and I think I am still active,” Glanz told the Tulsa World. He also defended his friendship with Bates, pulling out his phone to show a photo of him and Bates, who is smiling and holding up a fish. Glanz has said that Bates has also been his insurance agent.
“Bob and I both love to fish,” Glanz said. “Is it wrong to have a friend?”