Deputy Charged with Manslaughter for Gunning Down Unarmed Man

Originally published on April 14, 2015, at NationofChange.org

A reserve sheriff’s deputy was charged with second-degree manslaughter on Monday after video captured him shooting an unarmed man on the ground. The deputy immediately apologized claiming he believed that he was firing his Taser when he pulled the trigger on his gun and killed the suspect. The victim’s family has accused the Tulsa County Sheriff of protecting the deputy due to his political connections to the sheriff.

At 10 a.m. on April 2, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) Violent Crimes Task Force attempted a sting operation to catch Eric Harris selling a 9mm semiautomatic pistol to an undercover cop on video. Surveillance footage revealed Harris meeting the undercover officer in a parking lot and retrieving a gun from his backpack. Harris placed the gun on the floor of the vehicle before noticing officers arriving to arrest him. Instead of complying, Harris fled on foot with officers in pursuit.

Video from a deputy’s sunglass camera shows a deputy exiting his patrol car and tackling Harris to the ground. As the officers attempt to restrain Harris, 73-year-old reserve sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates can be heard off-camera shouting, “Taser! Taser!”

Instead of firing his Taser at Harris who was being held down by deputies, Bates fired a single bullet from his gun into Harris. Bates immediately dropped his gun while exclaiming, “Oh! I shot him. I’m sorry.”

Instead of giving Harris medical attention for the bullet wound, deputies handcuffed him, placed one of their knees against the back of his head, and ignored his pleas for help. As Harris began losing blood, he told officers that he had been shot and was losing his breath. The deputies responded by ordering him to shut up and refusing to give him immediate medical attention.

Harris was pronounced dead less than an hour later at a local hospital. According to the sheriff’s office, Harris admitted shortly before his death that he was on PCP during the shooting.

After the TCSO defended Bates’ mistake and declared that he had not committed a crime, Harris’ family accused Sheriff Stanley Glanz of protecting his friend. Bates, who operates Commercial Insurance Brokers LLC, served as chairman of the Re-elect Sheriff Glanz Committee in 2012 and donated $2,500 to Glanz’s campaign that year. Although Glanz and Bates have been friends for roughly 50 years, and Bates had been his insurance agent, Glanz insisted that he had not given Bates preferential treatment.

On Monday, prosecutors charged Bates with second-degree manslaughter involving culpable negligence. In a statement, District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler explained, “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.’”

According to the TCSO website, Bates received a Meritorious Award in 2012 and was named Reserve Deputy of the Year in 2011.

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