Volunteer cop in Oklahoma charged with manslaughter
A white 73-year-old volunteer police officer in Tulsa, Okla., has been charged with manslaughter after shooting dead an unarmed black man, claiming he had meant to use his stun gun instead.
Oklahoma City — Prosecutors charged a white reserve sheriff's deputy with manslaughter Monday in the death of a black man who was fatally shot as he lay on the ground at the officer's feet.
The sheriff's office has said that Robert Bates, a 73-year-old insurance executive who was volunteering on an undercover operation in Tulsa, mistakenly pulled out his handgun instead of his stun gun and shot the suspect as he struggled with deputies.
Bates was charged with second-degree manslaughter involving "culpable negligence" for the April 2 death of Eric Harris, 44.
A video of the incident shot by deputies with sunglass cameras and released Friday at the request of the victim's family, shows a deputy chase and tackle Harris, whom they said tried to sell an illegal gun to an undercover officer.
As the deputy subdues Harris on the ground, a gunshot rings out and a man says: "Oh, I shot him. I'm sorry."
Harris screams: "He shot me. Oh, my God," and a deputy replies: "You f---ing ran. Shut the f--- up."
Harris was treated by medics at the scene and died in a Tulsa hospital.
The family said in a statement that it was "saddened, shocked, confused and disturbed."
"Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all of this is the inhumane and malicious treatment of Eric after he was shot," the family wrote. "These deputies treated Eric as less than human. They treated Eric as if his life had no value."
At a news conference on Monday, Andre Harris, the victim's brother, said he does not believe the shooting was racially motivated.
The case is one among many that have increasingly worried civil rights advocates who say that stun guns, promoted as tools to avoid lethal force, too often figure into the death of a suspect. The Associated Press has found at least a half-dozen other fatal shootings of black men by police with stun guns involved since 2012.
The case also raised questions about the use of volunteer officers to supplement full-time police and the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called for an end to the use of reserve officers for significant police work.
The use of reserve officers is commonplace across Oklahoma and much of the nation. Cities and counties often turn to them for extra manpower because of a lack of resources and tight budgets. They are sometimes used to free up regular officers to concentrate on high-priority duties.
Reserve deputies are permitted to carry firearms but have far less training than regular officers.
About 4,000 reserve officers are active in Oklahoma, according to the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training. Most are unpaid and volunteer simply out of a sense of civic duty, said council Director Steve Emmons.
While there's no current official tally, an article in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin in 2006 estimated the national total of reserve officers at 400,000.
Bates, who was briefly a full-time officer with the Tulsa Police Department from 1964 to 1965, is now an insurance executive who updates his certification every year and has completed more than the state-required hours, said Tulsa County sheriff's spokesman Shannon Clark.
Bates was acting in a support role during the April 2 sting operation and does not typically confront suspects, Clark said.
Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz has described Bates as a personal friend, and records show he has been a generous donor to the department since he became a reserve deputy in 2008.