An Oklahoma jury took less than three hours to find a volunteer reserve sheriff deputy for fatally shooting an unarmed man named Eric Harris in April 2015. He was convicted on a charge of second-degree manslaughter and it was recommended he serve the maximum penalty, which is four years.
Robert Bates, 74, had a long history with Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and reportedly had aspirations to be a cop himself. After donating money for both new squad cars and the sheriff’s re-election campaign, Bates became a volunteer reserve deputy in 2008 and was working alongside deputies on April 2, 2015, the day of the fatal incident, according to CNN.
On that day, he provided backup during a sting operation that was meant to catch Harris selling illegal weapons. When police approached, Harris reportedly fled the scene and led a short chase.
Once officers caught up to Harris, they struggled to hold him to the ground while Bates approached with his taser in one hand and a revolver in the other. Bates aimed for a spot where there was an opening and said he was going to use his taser but instead fired a bullet from his firearm.
“He got out of his vehicle to man up and help,” said defense lawyer Clark Brewster. “I truly believe you will find this was an accident driven to this point by the actions of Mr. Harris.”
Many question why a then 73-year-old man was in the vicinity of a sting operation with access to a firearm, including Prosecutor John David Luton.
“Bob Bates didn’t act with usual and ordinary care,” Luton said. “He also didn’t do what a reasonable person would do under similar circumstances. … Eric Harris deserved to be chased, he deserved to be tackled, he deserved to be arrested. He did not deserve to be killed by reserve deputy Bob Bates.”
Deputies that were on the scene testified that they could’ve easily been killed had Bates missed and that they saw him nodding off in a vehicle minutes before the altercation.
“For a 73-year-old to be out on a drug task force, supposedly chasing deadly criminals, is not his line of work,” said Andre Harris, Eric’s brother. “Seventy-three is the age where you retire with your grandkids and enjoy life.”
Preliminary sentencing for the case is currently set for May 31.
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