Tulsa Sheriff's Office Releases Video, Details Of Deputy-Involved Shooting

Friday, April 10th 2015, 2:54 pm
By: News On 6

[Editor's note: The attached video released by TCSO contains profanity.]

The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office says it has concluded its investigation of the day an undercover sting turned deadly outside a north Tulsa Dollar General store.

At a news conference on Friday, officials showed the media video footage of the fatal shooting.

The case has been presented to the Tulsa County District Attorney, who will decide whether or not reserve deputy Bob Bates was justified in his actions of shooting convicted felon Eric Harris.

The news comes a day after the family of Harris asked for transparency from investigators. TCSO said it offered to show Harris' brother both videos of the incident before the news conference, and his brother declined, saying it would be too difficult after all.

He was, however, given a briefing on the situation and took the opportunity to ask questions to deputies privately.

4/10/2015 Related Story: Family Of Man Fatally Shot By Tulsa Reserve Deputy Wants Video Released

Harris was first a suspect in an investigation into a form of methamphetamine called ICE, and during that investigation, he allegedly made statements about being able to sell illegal weapons to undercover deputies.

Reserve deputy Bates was working the perimeter during an undercover sting operation April 2 when, the department said, Harris ran from and began to fight with the deputies trying to arrest him after a gun sale was made.

Harris reportedly ran toward Bates, who said he meant to use his Taser but pulled and fired his gun by mistake. Harris died later at a Tulsa hospital.

4/3/2015 Related Story: Deputy Reached For Taser, 'Inadvertently' Fired Gun In Fatal Shooting, Sheriff's Office Says

Tulsa Sgt. Jim Clark, an independent consultant who is a nationally recognized expert hired by the sheriff's office to do a private evaluation of the incident, talked to reporters at the news conference about the conclusions of the investigation.

In his opinion, Bates' actions are consistent with excusable homicide as Oklahoma state statutes are written.

“Reserve Deputy Bates was a victim, a true victim of slips and capture,” Clark said.

Slips and capture is a theory that, in high-stress situations, a person does the opposite of what the brain thinks it is doing.

It's “a scientific reason: Slips and capture,” Clark said. “Happens in medical community, aviation industry and law enforcement. You can train someone as much as you can, but in times of crisis, sometimes training is not going to take you through the scenario.”

Clark said Bates was three-layers deep in a containment position during the Harris sting, not part of the arrest team. But as Harris ran toward his position after fighting with deputies and resisting arrest, Bates had to move in.

He said Bates believed it was critical to get Harris subdued as quickly as possible for several reasons:
  • Because of his prior record
  • Because he had just resisted arrest
  • Because he just sold a gun and drugs to an undercover deputy
  • Because he potentially was armed since it isn't uncommon for drug dealers to be armed to protect their illegal products
  • And because the manner in which Harris ran and was holding his arms was consistent with having a weapon
According to video shown, Harris took three or four strides with his hand against his hip and then made movements with his hands, with his back to the deputy, which is consistent in gaining control of a handgun, Clark said.

“The deputy repeatedly was giving him orders and commands to show his hands and get down, which he refused,” Clark said.

Next, video shows a voice identified by TCSO as Bates saying “Taser! Taser!” Clark said that is routine and to announce to other officers the intention, and for them to get back and disengage so he would have room to work.

Then one shot is heard as a weapon was discharged.

One second after the shot, a voice that TCSO says is Bates, says: “I shot him. I'm sorry,” and dropped the gun.

Clark said he firmly believes and has corroborated with other experts that Bates did not mean to use lethal force.

When Harris hit the ground, Clark said the other deputies were not aware he had been shot instead of tasered, so they were trying to gain control of him, exchanging profanities as Harris was shouting he'd been shot.

On video, Harris can be heard shouting that he couldn't breathe, to which another undercover officer trying to gain control of him responded: "F--k your breath!"

Harris was unarmed at the time he was shot, but Clark said deputies didn't know that because he hadn't been searched since he ran from the arrest.

Once deputies realized Harris had a gunshot wound, they immediately rendered aid and called for EMSA and firefighters to intervene, Clark said.

“These situations are volatile until handcuffing is applied,” Clark said. “The entire time we have on video, he still hasn't been searched. … Mr. Harris was under the influence of PCP. He confessed to two different EMSA paramedics. Explains why the struggle [on the ground] was so intense.”

Bates, however, immediately was shocked at his own gunshot, Clark said.

“He did not have any intention to shoot Mr. Harris with a handgun,” he said.

One of the reasons why Clark is confident? Because Bates dropped the gun after firing, which is consistent with not realizing he had a gun instead of a Taser, he said.

There's no recoil with a Taser like with a handgun.

“Different in grip between handgun and Taser grip, caused his hand to lose grip and drop because he was not expecting the recoil,” Clark said.

He also said the weight of the weapons alone would not have alerted Bates to the fact he had drawn the wrong one, noting Bates' handgun weighs 11.4 ounces and his Taser is 12.6 ounces. And even though the Taser is kept in an armored vest and a gun on the hip, Clark said he doesn't believe there was any wrongdoing.

He also said Bates' age of 73 years had nothing to do with the shooting or the weapon confusion.

“It's happened to 21-year-old law enforcement officers; it's happened to 30-year-old law enforcement officers,” he said. “Age is not really a factor in consideration of the dynamics of slips-and-capture events."

According to TCSO Capt. Billy McKelvey, Bates is involved with these type of tactical operations routinely.

“Happens every day in law enforcement where an officer has a lethal weapon and has to transition to a non-lethal weapon… This particular time, Mr. Bates thought he had transitioned to a Taser when he shot Mr. Harris,” McKelvey said.

Investigators detailed Bates' training hours. Bates has been a reserve deputy since 2008 and was voted reserve deputy of the year in 2011.

“He was a citizen volunteer,” McKelvey said. “He has contributed over 1,100 hours to the community. Approximately 300 hours of additional training and is a police-certified law enforcement officer.”

Bates had “well in excess in what you would expect of someone who is meeting minimum requirements,” Jim Clark said.

TCSO Maj. Shannon Clark added that under pressure by the Harris family, the public, media and the DA's office, the investigation was completed very quickly.

“We have done our very best as a sheriff's office to be transparent,” Shannon Clark said. “It has been a very trying last several days.”

He said questions have been levied at the sheriff's department about reserve deputies, tactical operations and the violent crimes task force, which he has answered as much as he could, and now moreso since the investigation is complete and on its way to the DA for his consideration.

Harris had a long criminal record. He was convicted of multiple crimes, including robbery with a dangerous weapon, making threatening calls, escaping from a penal institution, larceny and forgery.

We reached out to the Harris family on Friday, but they haven't responded to our request for comment.

According to a Tulsa funeral home, funeral services for Harris were held on Wednesday.