Outrage is brewing in Oklahoma after Tulsa police released footage showing an unarmed Black man, Eric Harris, being shot by a volunteer sheriff’s deputy who claims he thought he was deploying his Taser. The video also shows police callously brutalizing him as he lay dying on the ground.
The shooting occurred on April 2 but was released on Friday after repeated calls by Eric Harris’ family for the video to be made public. The video is shocking both because it shows how a sheriff’s department volunteer, reserve deputy Robert Bates, 73, who is an insurance company executive, could be placed in a position where he could discharge his weapon—even by mistake—and take a man’s life, and also because it displayed the officers’ apparent disregard for Harris’ life after he had been shot.
The Tulsa footage comes in the midst of national outrage over the death of Walter Scott, who was killed by North Charleston officer Michael Slager with five shots to the back that were captured by a bystander’s cellphone video recording. Slager was charged with murder after the video was released, revealing that Slager was apparently lying about being in danger during a scuffle over his Taser and also him appearing to plant his Taser next to Scott’s body.
In the Tulsa video, as Harris lay on the ground with an officer’s knee pressed against his head, he can be heard yelling, “He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my God. I’m losing my breath.”
Bates shouts “Taser! Taser!” before the sound of a gunshot can be heard.
“I shot him!” Bates says, dropping his gun. “I’m sorry.”
Bates, the insurance company executive, was along for the encounter because the sheriff’s office said he was assisting other deputies who were trying to take Harris into custody after Harris, who police say was trying to sell a 9 mm. semiautomatic pistol and ammunition to undercover cops, ran away from police during the sting operation.
Bates has donated thousands of dollars worth of items—such as multiple vehicles, guns and stun guns—to the Sheriff’s Office since becoming a reserve deputy in 2008, according to a story in the Tulsa World. Ironically, Bates may have donated the sunglass cameras used to record the video footage.
Apparently there are many other wealthy donors among the department’s 13o reserve deputies who get such hands-on, real-life policing.
“There are lots of wealthy people in the reserve program,” Maj. Shannon Clark told the Tulsa World. “Many of them make donations of items. That’s not unusual at all.”
Bates apparently served as a Tulsa police officer for one year, from 1964 to 1965, when he would have been about 22.
The volunteers in the Sheriff’s Office’s Reserve Deputy Program are separated into three categories: basic, intermediate and advanced.
Clark said Bates is classified as an “advanced reserve,” which means he “can do anything a full-time deputy can do.”
“Although he had training and experience for the arrest team, he’s not assigned to the arrest team,” Clark said of Bates’ role on the task force. “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.”
To receive advanced status, Bates was required to undergo at least 800 hours of training.
The Tulsa World took pains to point out that Harris, 44, was “an ex-convict with an extensive criminal history.”
He was shot in the right axilla, the area under the joint that connects the arm to the shoulder, according to a statement from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office. Clark told the paper that Harris, who died at a Tulsa hospital after the shooting, told a deputy at the scene that he had taken PCP earlier in the morning.
As he is being held down by his neck and head, another deputy in the video screams at him, “You shouldn’t have f—–g ran!”
At a news conference,Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark said Harris was “absolutely a threat when going down.”
But sheriff’s Capt. Billy McKelvey claims the arresting officers were not aware Harris had been shot. He said they called paramedics and firefighters and rendered aid when they realized.
“He made an inadvertent mistake,” McKelvey said of Bates.