Over a week ago, an unarmed black man named Eric Courtney Harris was killed by 73-year-old Tulsa, Oklahoma, “reserve deputy” police officer Bob Bates. This happened shortly after Harris sold ammunition and a gun to some undercover cops, who moved to arrest him. Harris fled and — according to the explanation given by officials — Bates accidentally shot the 44-year-old while trying to Tase him: “During the rapidly evolving altercation, the reserve deputy had what he believed was his Taser from his tactical carrier … Initial reports have determined that the reserve deputy was attempting to use less lethal force, believing he was utilizing a Taser, when he inadvertently discharged his service weapon, firing one round which struck Harris,” said a report. Body-camera footage of the shooting, which was released on Friday, adds yet another horrifying dimension to the incident.
In the (extremely upsetting) video, Harris can be seen running down a sidewalk. Officers order him to get down, someone yells “Taser!” and a gunshot is heard. Bates yells, “I shot him! I’m sorry.” Meanwhile, Harris is crying, “He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh my God. I’m losing my breath.”
“Fuck your breath!” a cop responds. “Shut the fuck up!” “You shouldn’t have fucking ran!” his colleague adds as they hold Harris down. Harris died about an hour later at a nearby hospital.
At a news conference following the release of the footage, Sheriff’s Captain Billy McKelvey told reporters that the heartless-sounding officers didn’t realize that Harris had been shot, even though Bates immediately pointed out what had happened. “He made an inadvertent mistake,” said McKelvey. Bates, a former Tulsa officer and current insurance salesman, has been placed on administrative leave.
Harris had been convicted in 2013 for assault of a law enforcement officer, according to the Los Angeles Times. He had several other felony convictions on his record.
On Monday, the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office announced that Bates has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. “Oklahoma law,” District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said in a statement, “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.’”
Major Shannon Clark, a spokesperson at the Tulsa Sheriff’s Office, told ABC News that Bates “never intended in his 73 years of life to take a human life. No one intended for Mr. Harris to die that day.”
The Tulsa World reported on Monday that Bates — who was named Tulsa’s top reserve deputy in 2011 — had donated thousands of dollars’ worth of vehicles, guns, and stun guns since he became a reserve deputy seven years ago. “There are lots of wealthy people in the reserve program,” Clark told the newspaper. “Many of them make donations of items. That’s not unusual at all.”
Harris’s family released a statement on Sunday. “We do not believe it is reasonable for a 73-year-old insurance executive to be involved in a dangerous undercover sting operation. … We do not believe it is reasonable – or responsible – for [the Tulsa Sheriff’s Office] to accept gifts from a wealthy citizen who wants to be [a] ‘pay to play’ cop.”
There are 130 people on the city’s reserve deputy squad, many of whom regularly take part in undercover investigations like the one that resulted in Harris’s death and “are typically unpaid volunteers who work other full-time jobs.”
The Tulsa World wrote its editorial on Monday about the program, concluding that “the death of Harris gives pretty obvious evidence that the sheriff’s reserve program has gone beyond what the public ever would have imagined and is in need of a thorough, citizen-led, publicly conducted review.”