Oklahoma law enforcement officials say it was an accident when a reserve deputy reached for his gun and fatally shot an unarmed black man in Tulsa, adding that the white officer had meant to pull out his Taser.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office released footage of the shooting, showing the fatal encounter from April 2 in detail.
Officials say Deputy Bob Bates opened fire on Eric Harris after he tried to flee an undercover gun deal. Harris, an ex-con, was caught allegedly trying to sell a 9 mm. semiautomatic pistol and ammunition to the Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes Task Force. As a reserve deputy, Bates is not an active member of the task force – he is a deputized civilian.
After getting suspicious of the undercover officers, Harris bolts, and is seen in the video running in Bates’ direction. The deputy chases after him, yelling “Taser! Taser!”
A single gunshot rings out.
“I shot him!” Bates says, dropping his gun. “I’m sorry.”
From there, Harris yells out as he’s being wrestled on the ground with several deputies. “He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my God. I’m losing my breath,” Harris says in the video. The deputies yell expletives as Harris is pinned down at his neck and head. “You shouldn’t have f—–g ran!” one says. “Shut the f— up!”
Harris died later in the hospital.
According to the Tulsa World, Bates, 73, is a former police officer who served one year on Tulsa’s force – between 1964 and 1965. He became a deputy reserve in 2008. But in his seven years as a deputized civilian, Bates underwent just 276 hours of training, the local NBC affiliate KJRH reported. Bates was not originally scheduled to join the task force the day of the shooting, but was “thrust into the situation,” authorities said in a press conference Friday.
The Sheriff’s Office blamed the incident as a mistaken “slips and capture” – when an individual intends to do one thing, but instead does another. Bate intended to reach for his Taser, but mistakenly went for his gun, officials said.
“Deputy Bates did not commit a crime. Reserve Deputy Bates was a victim, a true victim, of slips and capture,” Sergeant Jim Clark said, according to KJRH.
The Harris family had called on law enforcement officials to release the video of the shooting incident to the public.
“How do you actually mistake a Taser for a .38? You don’t mistake it,” the victim’s brother, Andre Harris, told KJRH.
The dramatic video footage is just the latest officer-involved shooting of an unarmed black man to be caught on camera. Last week, Walter Scott was fatally shot in South Carolina after trying to flee a confrontation with a police officer that began out of a routine traffic stop. A day after video footage of the fatal encounter was released, the officer who pulled the trigger was charged with murder and fired from the police force.
Deputy Who Accidentally Shot Restrained Man Is a Wealthy Exec Who Pays to Play Cop
By Terrell Jermaine Starr
April 13, 2015
The reserve Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy who shot an unarmed black man last week is actually an insurance company executive who has donated weapons, stun guns and vehicles to the Sheriff’s Office since joining its ranks in 2008, Raw Story reports.
Robert Bates, 73, fatally shot and killed Eric Harris after he mistakenly grabbed his gun instead of his Taser last week. Bates is heard in the video of the shooting, released last week , saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
When Harris says, “I’m losing my breath,” an officer shouts back, “Fuck your breath.”
Harris was taken to a local hospital where he later died.
Bates, according to Maj. Shannon Clark, is a well-respected member of the Reserve Deputy Program’s 130-member team and one of its wealthy donors. “There are lots of wealthy people in the reserve program," Clark said. "Many of them make donations of items. That’s not unusual at all.”
Bates is not compensated for his time as a reserve. And he was not assigned to be part of the "arrest team." He was just helping out. As an “advanced reserve,” he is allowed perform the same duties as a regular certified deputy, Clark added. An advanced reserve can “perform normal field duties by themselves and without the direct supervision of a certified deputy” after 320 hours of training with CLEET (the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training) as well as have completed 480 hours of the TCSO Field Training Officer Program, according to the training manual.
The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office has not decided on if it will press charges against Bates or not.
He was a Tulsa police office for one year, in 1964.
Speaking publicly for the first time since he shot and killed an unarmed man during a police raid earlier this month in Oklahoma, 73-year-old reserve deputy Robert Bates apologized to the family of his victim and dismissed reports that supervisors falsified his training records.
“First and foremost let me apologize to the family of Eric Harris,” Bates told “TODAY’s” Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview Friday on “TODAY.” “I still can’t believe it happened.”
RELATED: Tulsa World: Bates had ‘very little’ training
Bates told authorities he meant to use his Taser when he instead fired his handgun during an April 2 sting operation that resulted in death of Harris. In a video of the encounter, Bates could be heard shouting “Taser!” and later saying, “I shot him. I’m sorry.”
Bates initially called the shooting “the second worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Or first.” He then went on to describe how he was diagnosed with cancer.
“I rate this as number one on my list of things in my life that I regret,” he said.
Asked to demonstrate where he kept the weapons on his body, Bates stood up and showed where his Taser was kept on the left side of his body, tucked beneath a protective vest. The gun was kept on his right hip. Bates said he’s read about similar mistakes in media reports.
“I thought to myself after reading several cases, ‘I don’t understand how this can happen.’ You must believe me, it can happen to anyone,” he said.
After hearing the gunfire, Bates realized the error and thought: “Oh my God. What has happened?”
He said each weapon he carries has a laser light that indicates the intended target.
“I saw the light and I squeezed the trigger, and then realized. I dropped the gun,” he said. “This was not an intentional thing. I had no desire to ever take anyone’s life.”
Bates said he continues to be stunned that he took someone’s life.
“I never considered the repercussions of what I had just done. It was shock. I can tell you it stayed with me for a number of days. I’m not at all sure it’s not still with me today,” he said. “Lack of sleep, inability to concentrate. All of those, plus more. I still can’t believe it happened.”
Bates said he typically has a behind-the-scenes role in operations. He initially was parked several blocks away from the sting operation involving Harris when it occurred. But when the suspect bolted from officers at the scene, he headed toward Bates.
“I’ve been involved in several hundreds of these (cases). I do clean up when they’re done. I take notes. I take photographs. And that’s my job,” he explained.
Although state records showed Bates clocked nearly 300 hours of training since 2008, the Tulsa World reported Thursday that supervisors at the Tulsa County sheriff’s office were told to falsify Bates’ training records. Those who refused were reportedly transferred to other positions. The report has not been verified by NBC News.
“That is not correct,” Bates said about the report, insisting he was certified to be on the streets in his position. “That is absolutely the truth. I have it in writing.”
His attorney, Clark Brewster, dismissed the credibility of sources used by the Tulsa World. He said the report was based on documents provided by a sheriff’s official who was terminated about seven years ago and has since been charged with first-degree murder.
Responding to Bates’ apology, the family of Eric Harris released the following statement late Friday: “We appreciate Bob Bates’ apology for shooting and killing Eric. Unfortunately, Mr. Bates’ apology will not bring Eric back. With each passing day, as the facts continue to unfold, we have become increasingly disturbed by Mr. Bates’ actions on Apil 2, 2015, as well as the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office’s (“TCSO”) acts and omissions, both before and after the shooting. We remain vigilant in seeking the truth and in our pursuit of justice.”
Bates has been portrayed by critics as a wealthy and generous benefactor of the sheriff’s department, as well as a close friend of the sheriff, who rewarded Bates for his financial support with a position on the reserves.
“That is unbelievably unfair,” Bates said. “I have donated equipment as I saw fit” as well as helped with efforts to fight Tulsa’s drug problem, he explained.
Bates has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the case and is currently free on bail. He was scheduled to be arraigned next week and plans to plead not guilty.