Video released by an Oklahoma sheriff’s department on Friday shows an unarmed black man named Eric Harris fleeing police as they exit their cars to chase him. After officers catch up to Harris and bring him to the ground, an officer calls out the word “Taser” twice, before firing a single shot at Harris. The shot, which was fired by Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, was fatal. Harris was pronounced dead an hour later.
The shooting appears to be a tragic accident. Bates did say “Taser” before shooting Harris, and immediately after pulling the trigger, Bates drops the gun and says “Oh! I shot him. I’m sorry.” At a press conference on Friday, a Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson claimed that Bates was a “true victim” of something called “slips and capture” — a police term for when someone does one thing while believing they are doing something else in a high stress situation. They say that Bates believed he was holding his Taser and not his firearm when he fired the round that killed Harris.
Whatever Bates’s intentions, however, the other officers on the scene respond to Harris’s cries for help by forcefully pinning him to the ground and telling him to shut up in the video released by the sheriff’s department. As Harris lies face down on the ground bleeding and crying out “oh shit man, he shot me, he shot me! Oh, he shot me!” one officer puts his knee on Harris’s head in an apparent effort to subdue him. An officer tells Harris to “shut the fuck up” shortly thereafter.
When Harris tells one of the officers “I’m losing my breath,” the officer responds, “fuck your breath.”
At the press conference on Friday, Tulsa County Sheriff’s Capt. Billy McKelvey claimed that the officers who surrounded Harris immediately after Bates fired his gun were not aware that Harris had been shot. McKelvey also claimed that they radioed for paramedics as soon as they released that Harris was wounded.
An unusual twist in this story is that Bates, the reserve deputy who shot Harris, is not a full-time officer. He is a 73-year-old insurance executive and a wealthy donor to the sheriff’s department. The department includes 130 reserve deputies who are volunteers who donate their time to law enforcement. Bates is classified as “advanced reserve,” the highest level of reserve deputy, a position that permits him to “do anything a full-time deputy can do.”
Bates did serve as a full-time police officer for one year — in 1964 and 1965 — and he had to complete 800 hours of training to be classified as advanced reserve. Once they have completed this training, however, an advanced reserve deputy must only serve for 40 hours every six months in order to maintain their certification.
At the Friday press conference, Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark said the Tulsa County Sheriffs Office’s investigation concluded that Bates did not commit a crime and no policy violations occurred.