‘Pay to Play’ Cop Shot Unarmed Black Man
A rich donor to Tulsa police mistakenly pulled out his gun instead of his Taser and blasted a fleeing suspect.
The volunteer cop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who killed an unarmed black man was forking over thousands in donations and equipment after becoming an unpaid sheriff’s deputy.
Robert Bates, a 73-year-old insurance executive-turned-deputy, accidentally fired his gun instead of a Taser—costing Eric Harris, 44, his life and adding to the tally of deadly police shootings against minorities nationwide.
On Friday, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department police released footage of the April 2 incident, which officials call an accident.
“He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my god. I’m losing my breath,” Harris says as he squirms on the ground.
But as Harris lay dying, officers are heard on tape mocking him.
“Fuck your breath,” a cop responds.
Bates, who has been a reserve deputy since 2008, is among a cadre of wealthy donors to the Tulsa sheriff’s department. He has donated thousands in vehicles and equipment to the office, and also chaired Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s reelection campaign in 2012.
The botched arrest and tragic death came during a sting operation, where Harris allegedly sold a firearm to undercover cops and fled. Harris was wrestling with another deputy when Bates intended to subdue him with the electroshock device, authorities say.
Harris was face down on the pavement with officers on top of him. Bates is heard shouting, “Taser! Taser!” Instead, a gunshot rings out.
“Oh! I shot him! I’m sorry!” Bates says.
Harris, who police say was under the influence of PCP, died at a local hospital shortly after the incident. Officials have not provided documentation showing Harris was impaired or intoxicated.
After the incident, Harris’s family demanded police officials release video of the encounter and provide evidence of claims that he was under the influence.
“My brothers soul cryes [sic] out as he lays face down on the ground and shot to death,” wrote the victim’s brother, Andre Harris, on Facebook. “Is this the system we want?”
“If the sheriff stop me to question me I’m running for my life,” he added.
In a statement released Sunday by the family’s attorney, Daniel Smolen, Harris’s relatives demanded an independent investigation, saying the department “has every reason to want to protect Bob Bates.”
“We do not believe it is reasonable for a 73-year-old insurance executive to be involved in a dangerous undercover sting operation,” the family said, adding, “We do not believe it is reasonable for Bob Bates to be carrying a gun that was not issued by TCSO. We do not believe it is reasonable—or responsible—for TCSO to accept gifts from a wealthy citizen who wants to be a ‘pay to play’ cop.”
Oklahoma prosecutors are reviewing the fatal take-down—which comes on the heels of other high-profile police shootings including that of Walter Scott, who died after a cop sprayed eight bullets into his back after a traffic stop.
Thousands of people have died in police shootings since 2005, but only 54 officers have been charged, according to a recent Washington Post analysis. More than three-quarters of the cops were white, and two-thirds of their victims were minorities.
Meanwhile, the Post exposed another case of police brutality over the weekend. A mentally ill woman died in a Fairfax County, Virginia, jail in February after a sheriff’s deputy shocked her four times—while she was already restrained in handcuffs, leg shackles, and a mask.
In Bates’s case, the Tulsa sheriff’s department conceded that the deputy was “thrust into the situation” and wasn’t part of the original arrest team in the operation.
Bates “did not commit a crime” but was a victim himself of a phenomenon called “slip and capture.” The term refers to people doing the opposite of what they intend during periods of extreme stress, said Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark on Friday.
The deputy wasn’t an active member of the sheriff’s Violent Crimes Task Force, which was responsible for the bungled sweep. But Bates has donated thousands in gifts to the office since 2008, the Tulsa World reported.
He is one of many “wealthy people in the reserve program,” which includes 130 volunteer deputies, Major Shannon Clark of the sheriff’s office said.
“Many of them make donations of items. That’s not unusual at all,” he added.
Bates’s contributions include vehicles, firearms, and stun guns, Clark said. The shooting was recorded via sunglasses cameras worn by police—items that Bates may have purchased himself.
His previous law enforcement credentials include a stint as a Tulsa police officer from 1964 to 1965.
Clark said Bates was an “advanced reserve” and his duties included “anything a full-time deputy can do.”
During this particular encounter, however, Bates would normally be in a support role that includes “keeping notes, doing counter-surveillance, things like that,” Clark told the Tulsa World.