Sheriff’s Deputy Who Accidentally Shot And Killed An Unarmed Man Charged With Manslaughter


bates harris

Robert Charles Bates (l) & Eric Harris

Robert Charles Bates, the 73 year-old insurance-executive-turned-volunteer-cop who was caught on video fatally shooting an unarmed black suspect was charged with second degree manslaughter on Monday. The charges allege that Bates demonstrated “culpable negligence” when he shot and killed Eric Harris while Harris was fleeing police. Under Oklahoma law, culpable negligence is defined 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.”

Though Bates briefly served as a full-time cop in 1964 and 1965, he encountered Harris while serving as a member of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office’s “reserve deputy” program. This program allowed Bates, who is also a major donor to the sheriff’s office, to “do anything a full-time deputy can do” after he completed a lengthy training program. Reserve deputies are not paid and they are only required to work 40 hours every six months to maintain their certification.

In the video depicting the shooting that killed Mr. Harris, Bates calls out the word “Taser” twice before firing a shot at Harris. After firing his gun, Bates drops it and says “Oh! I shot him. I’m sorry.” A police spokesperson later claimed that Harris believed he was holding his Taser when he was, in fact, holding his firearm, and that Bates only intended to use the stun gun against Harris. The charges against Bates are consistent with this claim that the shooting was accidental.

Though Bates’s tragic actions may have been inadvertent, the video also shows deputies pinning Harris to the ground after he is shot (though the sheriff’s office claims that deputies called for an ambulance once they discovered Harris was wounded). One of them even seems to mock the mortally wounded man. After Harris tells the deputy “I’m losing my breath,” the officer responds, “fuck your breath.”


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress