On Monday, a reserve deputy was charged with second-degree manslaughter in Oklahoma after the accidental shooting of a suspect during an undercover operation on April 2. Robert Bates, 73, was in the middle of an allegedly illegal firearms sting earlier this month when he shot and killed 44-year-old Eric Harris. Police reports showed that Bates had believed he was pulling his Taser before firing the fatal shot as Harris fled the scene.
In video footage released by the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, Harris is seen fleeing police on foot. After an officer tackles Harris to the ground, he struggles for a moment before a single shot is heard. "Oh, I shot him," yells Bates, whose attorney claims that he had meant to grab for his Taser to subdue the panicked suspect. "I'm sorry!"
The video recording shows a group of officers pinning Harris to the concrete with their hands and knees, as Harris cries out for help. "He shot me, oh my God, he shot me," Harris can be heard yelling. An unknown deputy then allegedly tells Harris to shut up while the 44-year-old claims over and over that he's having trouble breathing.
Harris was taken to a nearby Tulsa hospital where he died of his injuries a short time later.
Bates, an insurance company executive, was working as a volunteer deputy at the time of the shooting — a fact that has come under harsh scrutiny since the incident earlier this month. He had previously served as a police officer for a year in 1964, according to a report by The Washington Post, which also indicated that the Tulsa department had nearly 100 registered volunteer deputies in its charge — not unusual, according to Tulsa County Sheriff’s Maj. Shannon Clark.
Reserve deputies work free of charge with local police both on patrol as well as in escalated incidents like the undercover sting with Harris. They sometimes bring their own weapons along with them, The Washington Post reports. Salon reported last October that the prospective "hires" allegedly often give donations to be considered on the shortlist for volunteers.
Donna LaMontaine, president of the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Michigan, explained in an interview with Salon that the "cost" of becoming a reserve deputy wasn't just bizarre — it was irresponsible:
These people drop four or five grand and dress up to look like police. I have a problem with that. In some places, these reservists are allowed to access to the law enforcement information network, where they can run your license plate and find out where you live and look at your driving record. That’s happening.
Still, all the arguments and investigations in the world won't bring back Harris, whose family has called the shooting disturbing and inhumane — nor will it provide solace to Bates, who Sheriff Stanley Glanz said Monday had simply made a tragic mistake.
"He made an error," said Glanz, a longtime friend of Bates. "It was unintentional." He added that Bates' age had little to do with the error in judgment, saying "I am 72 years old, and I think I am still active."
If convicted, Bates faces anywhere from two to four years in prison, according to Oklahoma law.
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