Pay To Play

Tulsa’s Killer Is Sheriff’s Sugar Daddy

Tulsa's trigger-happy volunteer charged with fatally shooting an unarmed man plied the sheriff’s department with trips and gear, former officers say.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

The Tulsa deputy charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed black man was the sheriff’s sugar daddy—treating him to exotic cruises and fishing trips—former officers with the sheriff’s department told The Daily Beast.

Volunteer cop Robert Bates, 73, made national headlines after authorities released a video of the senior officer mistaking his gun for a Taser and killing Eric Harris, 44, during a bungled sting operation. “Oh, I shot him. I’m sorry,” Bates can be heard on the police cameras after yelling, “Taser!”

Hours before the Tulsa County district attorney charged Bates with second-degree manslaughter on Monday, Sheriff Stanley Glanz defended the deputy—who is his longtime friend and served as his insurance agent and onetime election campaign chair.

"He made an error," Glanz told the Tulsa World. "How many errors are made in an operating room every week?"

Glanz also showed a Tulsa World reporter cellphone photos of him fishing with Bates, a millionaire insurance executive. "Bob and I both love to fish," he said. "Is it wrong to have a friend?"

Still, former officers with the sheriff’s department told The Daily Beast that Bates was a “pay to play” policeman. The businessman donated thousands of dollars worth of vehicles and equipment to the force.

“Bob Bates came on board because he had all this money,” one former reserve deputy said, adding that the sheriff and other higher-ups would “go on these cruises in the Bahamas and in Mexico all the time.”

“[Bates] foots the bill,” the deputy added. “The sheriff just gave him free rein because he was treating him right. He bought his way into this position.”

Another former full-time deputy said Bates was “getting glad-handed” around the office because of his wealth.

“This is your typical Southern good ol’ boys system,” he said, adding that before the shooting Bates planned to take Glanz on a fishing trip to Florida.

Major Shannon T. Clark of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the allegations.

“I’m not going to respond to that,” he said in an email to The Daily Beast. “His personal life has nothing to do with this story.”

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Bates’s attorney, Scott Wood, said the sheriff’s drug task force was outfitted with surveillance equipment paid for by the volunteer.

“The contributions that he made, especially to the drug task force, has made a giant impact and led to drug arrests,” Wood told The Daily Beast, adding he was uncertain if Bates purchased the officers’ body cameras.

Regarding the luxury-trip allegations, Wood confirmed that Bates and sheriff’s department personnel vacationed together in the Bahamas. But he couldn’t say if Bates “paid their way there.”

“You have to know Bob Bates,” Wood said. “I know that he vacations in the Bahamas, I know that other members in the Sheriff’s Office have gone with him. But it would be like if we were college friends and we all said, ‘Let’s go there.’”

The volunteer was such a familiar face that when the TV show Cops came to Tulsa in 2008, producers asked if Bates was undersheriff.

“They were like, ‘Who is this guy? Is he the undersheriff or something?’” the insider recalled. “We said, ‘No, he’s just some new reserve.’”

Oklahoma watchdogs are questioning why Bates was involved in a deadly undercover weapons bust with an ex-con.

Bates could serve up to four years in prison for the manslaughter charge. And it’s not his only legal dilemma.

He is being sued in federal court for refusing to “vacate the premises” after selling his company, Robert C. Bates L.L.C., for tens of millions of dollars in 1999.

The new owner claims that when Bates finally left, he made off with “hundreds of files,” court records show.

Roger Crow, a fellow reserve deputy since 1982, told The Daily Beast that he sees Bates at monthly meetings and at the city’s annual fair.

He said the department warns reservists about drawing the wrong weapon in training videos.

“It’s a tragedy,” he said. “We’ve all gone through the training, but when it comes to what they call ‘the slip,’ when you think you’re harnessing your weapon—it happens. Even through the academy ... you think you’re pulling your weapon but you’re pulling out the Taser, unfortunately.”