TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Lawyers for an Oklahoma reserve sheriff’s deputy who killed an unarmed suspect lying face-down on the ground and being restrained are expected to argue that the victim’s drug use and health could have contributed to his death.
Robert Bates, a 74-year-old insurance executive who moonlighted as a reserve Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy in his spare time, is due to stand trial Monday on a second-degree manslaughter charge in the shooting death of Eric Harris, who was killed after running from deputies during an illegal gun sales sting last April. Video of the killing was captured on deputies’ body cameras and can be viewed online.
After deputies caught up to Harris and were restraining him on the ground, Bates can be heard yelling “Taser!” before firing a single gunshot that struck Harris near his armpit, killing him. Bates later said he thought he was drawing his stun gun instead of his handgun.
If convicted of second-degree manslaughter, Bates could be sentenced to up to four years in prison.
Bates’ attorneys plan to call expert witnesses who will suggest that other factors could have contributed to Harris’ death, such as the methamphetamine that was found in his system or his cardiac health.
Another expert for the defense intends to tell jurors how stress could have affected Bates’ cognitive decision-making and performance, among other theories.
One of Bates’ attorneys, Clark Brewster, defended the decision to call these experts, saying jurors deserve to consider all possible evidence. Prosecutors declined to comment.
Dan Smolen, an attorney for the Harris family, disputed any theory suggesting that anything other than being shot contributed to Harris’ death.
“This is a patently absurd defense,” Smolen said in a statement Friday. “Anyone who has seen the video of the incident knows that Mr. Harris would not have died on April 2, 2015, were it not for the gunshot.”
Harris’ death led to big changes involving the sheriff’s office, including a grand jury investigation of alleged wrongdoing at the agency, the indictment and resignation of the longtime sheriff, Stanley Glanz, and the suspension of the 120-member reserve deputy corps. An outside consultant hired to review the sheriff’s office determined that it suffered from a “system-wide failure of leadership and supervision” and had been in a “perceptible decline” for more than a decade.
Equally disturbing to thousands of residents who petitioned to empanel the grand jury was the perceived close ties between some reserve deputies, including Bates, and the sheriff.
Weeks after Harris was killed, an internal memo from 2009 was released by the attorney of Harris’ family questioning Bates’ qualifications. Bates was a close friend of Glanz who donated thousands of dollars in cash, vehicles and equipment to the agency. The agency memo alleged that superiors knew Bates didn’t have enough training but pressured others to look the other way because of his relationship with the sheriff and the agency.
A grand jury indicted Glanz in September, accusing him of failing to release the 2009 memo, and the longtime sheriff resigned Nov. 1.
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