Justice

Officer Who Shot Man In "F*ck Your Breath" Video Is Charged With Manslaughter

April 12th 2015

By:
Alex Mierjeski

On Monday, the 73-year-old reserve Tulsa sheriff's deputy who accidentally shot and killed Eric Harris, who was unarmed, earlier in the month has been charged with second-degree manslaughter following the release of a video last week. 

Robert Bates, who is also an insurance salesman, can be heard in the video yelling "taser," followed by the sound of a gunshot. Bates, who apparently mistook his pistol for his taser, can be heard saying, "I shot him, I'm sorry," following the sound of the shot. 

In charges filed Monday, District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said that "Oklahoma law defines culpable negligence as 'the omission to do something which a reasonably careful person would do, or the lack of the usual ordinary care and caution in the performance of an act usually and ordinarily exercised by a person under similar circumstances and conditions." 

Dan Smolen, the attorney for Harris' family, has reportedly been unresponsive to media requests, although the family issued a statement Sunday questioning the premise of Bates' involvement. "[We] do not believe it is reasonable for a 73-year-old insurance executive to be involved in a dangerous undercover sting operation," adding that "we do not believe it is reasonable – or responsible – for [the sheriff's office] to accept gifts from a wealthy citizen who wants to be [a] 'pay to play' cop."

According to the Guardian, Bates was named the Tulsa police department's reserve deputy of the year in 2011 and served a year on the force in the mid-1960s. According to the Tulsa World, Bates is one of some 130 volunteer reserves and had donated equipment as well as $2,500 to a re-election campaign for Sheriff Stanley Glanz in 2012. Glanz maintained that Bates, a friend, had received no special treatment. "How many errors are made in an operating room every week?" Glanz asked.

Although the incident occurred on April 2nd, police in Tulsa released the video Friday showing the shooting death of Harris, which largely went unnoticed until the video surfaced and blew up over the weekend. Harris was accused of attempting to sell a gun to undercover officers shortly before a subsequent foot chase and what officials described as an accidental shooting.

In the video, Bates can be heard saying, "Oh! I shot him, I'm sorry," after a gunshot rings out, apparently dropping his gun to the pavement in shock. "You shouldn't have fucking ran!" another officer is heard yelling at Harris, who is pinned to the ground by a swarm of officers. But one particularly chilling interaction stands out in the moments immediately after Harris is shot. "He shot me, man. Oh my god. I'm losing my breath," Harris says as an officer kneels on his head.

"Fuck your breath, shut the fuck up," the officer yells back, as he tries to corral Harris' hands behind his back.

According to Tulsa police, Bates has been placed on administrative leave following the incident, and officials confirmed that the shooting was accidental.

"The reserve deputy was attempting to use less lethal force, believing he was utilizing a taser, when he inadvertently discharged his service weapon," the sheriff's office wrote in a statement released a day after the actual incident earlier this month.

Harris was a felon, convicted of assault and battery of an officer, and officials underlined that he was "absolutely a threat when going down," Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark said at a news conference. Sheriff's Captain Bill McKelvey also admitted that "[Bates] made an inadvertent mistake."

The New York Daily News notes that McKelvey also claimed that the arresting officers were unaware that Harris was shot, despite a clear gunshot sound, as well as Bates' own admission.

No subsequent investigation has been announced, and according to Sgt. Dave Walker, Tulsa police "would not investigate the death unless the sheriff's office asked them to, and they have not asked us to."