A 73-year-old volunteer Tulsa County Sheriff’s Officer was charged with second-degree manslaughter Thursday for the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man.
Robert Bates, a former insurance broker, shot and killed Eric Harris back in April 2015 when he accidentally reached for his firearm instead of his taser, The New York Daily News reports. Harris was already being detained and held down by other officers when Bates fired the single shot.
“Oh, I shot him,” Bates said after pulling the trigger. “I’m sorry.”
The entire incident was captured on a body camera and later released by police. Harris can be heard screaming out in pain, “He shot me, man! Oh my God” to which one of the officers responded “Shut the f–k up! F–k your breath! He didn’t do s–t, you hear me?”
The gunshot broke two of Harris’ ribs which caused his lungs to collapse, according to the Daily News. He was pronounced dead at St. John Medical Center about 35 minutes after being shot by Bates.
The jury took less than three hours to find the volunteer officer guilty of manslaughter and urged that he be placed behind bars for a total of four years, the maximum sentence allowed. Bates will be sentenced on May 21.
“I honestly wasn’t sure that the guilty verdict was going to come back, and when it did, I was kind of blown away,” Harris’ sister-in-law, Sheila Dake-Harris, told reporters outside the courtroom.
Per the Daily News, the wannabe cop had close ties with the local deputies and even purchased new cars for the department’s violent crime task force and donated $2,500 to sheriff Stanley Glanz’s re-election campaign in 2012. His tight relationship allowed him to bypass the 480 hours of required field officer training. The trial also revealed that Bates was never qualified to carry a firearm, including the revolver with which he shot Harris. He had no experience dealing with a “fleeing suspect” either.
Defense lawyers tried to claim that the methamphetamine found in Harris’ system by the autopsy killed him — not the gunshot from Bates — but the harshest punishment was ultimately handed down. Officers initially pursued Harris for attempting to illegally sell a gun to an undercover cop.
Harris’ family says they hope the guilty verdict will aid in the reform of policing methods, the Daily News reports.
“He accomplished a lot in his death, I think even more than in his life,” Andre Harris, Eric Harris’ brother, said. “I’mma miss my brother, but you know, we all have a destination.”