Facing Jail

Pay-to-Play Cop Bob Bates Found Guilty in Fatal Shooting of Black Man

A jury Wednesday recommended that Bob Bates, a Tulsa volunteer sheriff’s deputy, serve four years in prison for fatally shooting an unarmed black man last year when he mistook his gun for a Taser.

Sue Ogrocki/AP

Bob Bates was a wealthy insurance executive turned volunteer cop when he killed an unarmed black man in Tulsa. The grandpa deputy claimed he mistook his gun for a Taser when he delivered the fatal blast.

On Wednesday, a jury found him guilty of manslaughter.

The jury took three hours to convict Bates of second-degree manslaughter after a nearly two-week trial. The 74-year-old faces up to four years in prison.

Bates was a reserve deputy with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office when he shot Eric Harris, 44, during a sting operation last year—an incident that made national news amid other police-involved shootings of minority suspects.

Walter Scott, a 50-year-old unarmed black man in South Carolina, was gunned down by a cop two days after Harris died. The officer shot Scott eight times in the back and was caught on a bystander’s cellphone camera.

That month, witnesses also recorded the brutal arrest of Freddie Gray, who died of spinal cord injuries while in Baltimore police custody.

Harris’s tragic demise was also captured on camera.

Tulsa deputies targeted Harris on April 2, 2015, as part of an illegal gun-buy sting operation, and he tried to flee before they tackled him.

Police body camera footage showed an officer cuffing Harris on the ground. Seconds later, Bates warns, “Taser! Taser!” before a gunshot is heard.

“Oh! I shot him. I’m sorry,” Bates says. As Harris lay dying, he yells, “He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my god. I’m losing my breath.”

“Fuck your breath,” a deputy replies.

After the guilty verdict, Harris’s brother, Andre, stood outside the courtroom and told reporters he could finally be at peace.

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“I want to make one thing clear for all the cameras to know: Bob Bates was not a qualified deputy when he shot and killed my brother,” Andre Harris said, referring to a 2009 internal affairs report on Bates’s lack of proper training—a document that wasn’t mentioned at trial.

Harris called Bates a “pay to play” police officer rather than a “true reserve deputy.”

“But now he gets to pay to play in the penitentiary,” Harris said.

Bates’s attorney, Clark Brewster, told reporters he plans to appeal the verdict. His client’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for next month.

When a reporter asked prosecutor Kevin Gray what the deciding factor was for the jury, he replied, “Hopefully, it was just common sense.”

“What we presented throughout the week was it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you just generally shouldn’t accidentally shoot somebody, and that’s exactly what happened in this case,” Gray said.

During closing arguments Wednesday, Gray told jurors that Bates previously stated Harris’s death “was on his conscience.”

“I’m asking you to put it on his record,” Gray said, according to the Tulsa World.

The prosecutor also bashed the defense’s focus on Harris’s criminal past. “This was the first time I’ve ever felt like the victim was on trial,” he said.

Fellow prosecutor John Luton added, according to News on 6, “Do we need an expert, ladies and gentlemen, to determine what happened to Eric Harris? Eight minutes after he’s shot, he’s dead.”

Meanwhile, Brewster said Bates was “somebody we should be proud of” in contrast to Harris’s rap sheet, of which he added, “I didn’t write his résumé. He wrote his résumé.”

Bates chose not to testify at trial. On response to a question by Judge William Musseman, the grandpa ex-cop said he was satisfied with his attorneys. “Absolutely, I’m tickled to death,” Bates said on Tuesday.

The jury, which was entirely white, consisted of six men and eight women. Most of them appeared to be over 40 years old, News on 6 reported.

Tulsa prosecutor Kevin Gray also raised questions about the jury’s racial makeup after the defense asked that the last two black jurors be excused, the Tulsa World reported.

Daniel Smolen, who is representing Harris’s family in a civil suit against Bates and Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, released a statement last week criticizing the jury makeup as “100 percent white.”

“The victim, Eric Harris, was African-American, and the Defendant, Bob Bates, is Caucasian. Thus, Mr. Bates’ fate will be decided by a jury with no racial diversity whatsoever,” the statement read. “At the very least, this lack of racial diversity gives the appearance of a ‘stacked deck’…”

At the heart of the case was whether Harris died of Bates’s gunshot or a heart attack—and if Bates was culpably negligent when he mistook his .357 revolver for his stun gun.

An expert for the defense testified on Monday that stress, rather than negligence, likely caused Bates to withdraw his handgun from its holster. Dr. Charles Morgan said Bates’s “muscle memory” kicked in during the stressful encounter and that he “reverted to habit” when he made the deadly mistake, News on 6 reported.

Defense attorneys also impugned the state medical examiner’s ruling that Harris’s death was a homicide.

On Tuesday, two doctors testifying for the defense objected to the state medical examiner’s autopsy report, which said Harris died of lung collapse and blood loss after Bates’s bullet pierced his right armpit, the Tulsa World reported.

Trauma doctor Mark Brandenburg said Harris died after having a heart attack caused by elevated adrenaline and a high level of meth in his system. He called the state pathologist’s finding that Harris bled to death “absolutely untrue,” the World reported.

Brandenburg accused the medical examiner, EMS technicians at the scene, and ER personnel at the hospital of making errors in their reports on Harris’s death. “This seems to be pervasive through this whole case,” Brandenburg testified, according to The Frontier. “A heart attack killed this man, the bullet did not.”

Cardiologist James Higgins also testified for the defense, saying Bates’s bullet didn’t strike the conduction system of Harris’s heart and had no effect on its electrical function.

The prosecution presented experts to counter these claims.

Dr. Gajal Kumar, an emergency room surgeon who treated Harris, testified that Harris had lost so much blood that a medical procedure she performed didn’t work. Kumar agreed with the medical examiner’s opinion that Harris died of the gunshot wound.

Another expert, Dr. R. Douglas Ensley, contested the defense’s testimony that Harris went into cardiac arrest. He said medical records showed Harris’s heart was “flat” or “flaccid,” which isn’t “typical” for someone dying of a heart attack, the World reported.

The trial also heard from the cops conducting the sting operation.

Deputies Ricardo Vaca and Miranda Munson thought Bates was “dozing off” for several minutes as he waited in his Tahoe for cops to make a move, the World reported. The officers testified that they saw Bates’s head was drooped and eyes closed.

Vaca testified that Bates’s gunshot was just “inches” from hitting him as he subdued Harris. “I mean, I almost got killed,” Vaca said, according to the World.

There were also questions about whether Bates should even have been permitted to participate in such a dangerous bust.

Deputy Lance Ramsey testified that Bates called him the night before to ask “if something was going on the next day,” according to The Frontier. Bates wasn’t listed on the operations plan but added to a group of nine deputies, Ramsey said.

Bates’s role was supposed to be carrying “less-lethal” weapons, including Tasers and pepper-ball guns, The Frontier reported.

The case ended the career of Sheriff Stanley Glanz, who resigned last September following a grand jury probe.

A fishing buddy of Glanz and his former campaign chairman, Bates was accused of being a “pay to play” cop over his donations to the sheriff’s department.

The Daily Beast previously revealed how Bates acted as Glanz’s sugar daddy, treating the lawman to exotic cruises while also providing thousands of dollars in vehicles and equipment to the force. “Bob and I both love to fish,” Glanz told the Tulsa World last year. “Is it wrong to have a friend?”

Sheriff’s Office higher-ups later testified to a grand jury that Bates’s training records were falsified and that a 2009 internal investigation into Bates’s special treatment went straight to the sheriff’s “dead file.”