Bob Bates, the deputy volunteer with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, has been found guilty of second-degree manslaughter. After mistaking his sidearm for a stun gun, the 74-year-old wannabe cop shot and killed an unarmed black man.
Eric Harris, who was being held on the ground by other Tulsa deputies, was fatally shot because Bates used a service revolver instead of a Taser stun gun on the suspect. The unintentional gun blast cracked two of Harris’ ribs, which caused his lungs to collapse.
“Oh, I shot him,” Bates said after firing. “I’m sorry.”
The accidental shooting was caught on camera via another officer’s body cam. According to the footage, one Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy began yelling “Shut the f— up!” at the defenseless Harris.
“He shot me, man! Oh my god,” Harris exclaimed.
“He didn’t do s–t, you hear me?!” shouted the same deputy.
Harris died a short time later.
On Wednesday, an all-white jury came back with a guilty verdict in less than three hours for the disgraced volunteer officer. Afterwards, Bates was led out of the courtroom alongside two deputies from the same department he once served.
Bates’ defense attorney, Clark Brewster, told the court during closing arguments that the volunteer cop should be thanked for his service. He explained how Bates was just trying to help fellow officers in a tense situation caused by Harris’ actions. Brewster also demonstrated how a stun gun and Bates’ revolver were very similar in size as well as weight.
In the body cam video, you can hear Bates say he was about to use a stun gun on the suspect. Deputy Leighton Boyd testified that he actually heard Bates shouting and moved out of the way to avoid being hit.
Prosecutor John David Luton argued the wishful Tulsa deputy did not act in a reasonable manner. While it was clear Harris should have been chased and tackled, his death was undeserved and directly caused by the inappropriate actions of reserve deputy Bob Bates.
On April 2, 2015, undercover police officers were conducting a sting operation in an effort to catch Harris selling a firearm illegally. When deputies attempted to detain the suspect, he ran.
The officers caught up and tackled Harris to the ground. Bates, who was there only as a backup, got out of his parked car and fired his revolver, hitting the suspect in the back. After the incident, Bates said he thought he had a Taser in his hand.
During the trial, Deputy Ricardo Vaca stated that Bates should have never fired any weapon, even if it was a stun gun. According to his testimony, Vaca was on top of Harris when Bates fired and was nearly shot as well.
“I almost got killed,” Vaca testified. “It makes me emotional. Inches to my right and I would have been killed.”
While the shooting may have been unintentional, Deputy Michael Heisten said the difference between a pistol and a Taser is unmistakable. For a stun gun, a switch has to be turned before it will work, but a pistol has no such switch.
The brother of Eric Harris, Andre Harris, said Bates should have never been part of the force, even as a volunteer. He is relieved and grateful the jury came to the right decision.
“For a 73-year-old to be out on a drug task force, supposedly chasing deadly criminals, is not his line of work,” Harris said. “Seventy-three is the age where you retire with your grandkids and enjoy life.”
A 2009 special inquiry by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office revealed Bates was never properly trained to handle a weapon and received preferential treatment in getting the reserve position. According to an attorney for the Harris family, Bates used connections and numerous donations to the department in order to be selected for the job.
A sentencing hearing will be held on May 31. Tulsa reserve deputy Bob Bates could serve up to four years in prison, the maximum allowed under the law.
[Photo by David Calvert/Getty Images]