A white reserve sheriff’s deputy in Tulsa County, Oklahoma shot and killed a black man who was on the ground being arrested on April 2. Law enforcement initially said the reserve deputy had mistaken his own handgun for a taser while trying to subdue the man and bring him into custody.
But the incident, as shocking as it sounded from the initial reports, didn’t make national headlines until this weekend. The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office released a video of the shooting at the request of the family of Eric Harris, the man who was killed. It showed a deputy telling the man “fuck your breath” when he complains that he’s having difficulty breathing after being shot.
The video’s release came just days after a white North Charleston, South Carolina police officer was fired from the department and charged with murder following the fatal shooting of a black man, which had been recorded by a bystander. It also had echoes of the death of Eric Garner, a black man who was shown on video repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” as he was being choked by a white police officer during an arrest last year in New York City.
Here are the facts of the Oklahoma case as they’ve been reported so far.
Who’s the person who was killed?
Image via KOTV.
Eric Courtney Harris, 44, was the subject of an undercover operation the day he was fatally shot. The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that Harris had sold meth to undercover investigators and told them he could sell them guns as well, according to the Tulsa World.
Harris was also a convicted felon. Court records show that robbery with a dangerous weapon and escaping from a penal institution were among his convictions, according to the newspaper.
Harris’ 16-year-old son, Aiden Fraley, remembered his father as a “sweet, nice, forgiving, thoughtful” person who “would do anything for anybody,” according to local TV station KOTV.
Harris’ brother Andre was vocal in demanding that police release any footage of the shooting.
“I want to know if he had a weapon on him or not. I want to know if he was shot in the back accidentally or on purpose,” he said, as quoted by local TV station KTUL. “These are all the things not only I want to know, but the public wants.”
Who’s the reserve deputy?
Robert Bates, 73, is an insurance company executive who became a reserve deputy in 2008, the Tulsa World newspaper reported. He also served one year as a police officer in the 1960s.
Tulsa County Sheriff’s Maj. Shannon Clark said Bates was assigned to the Violent Crimes Task Force involved in arresting Harris but not to the arrest team. Instead, Clark said, Bates was supposed to be acting in a supporting role.
The insurance company executive served as chairman of Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glantz’s 2012 re-election effort and donated $2,500 to the sheriff’s campaign that year, the Tulsa World reported.
Bates also donated thousands of dollars worth of equipment to the sheriff’s office, according to the report. Clark told the newspaper that Bates had donated vehicles, guns and Tasers to the agency.
Many of the agency’s 130 reserve deputies are wealthy donors, Clark said.
“There are lots of wealthy people in the reserve program,” he told the Tulsa World. “Many of them make donations of items. That’s not unusual at all.”
What did police originally say about the shooting?
The sheriff’s office initially said in a statement that Harris sold ammunition and a semi-automatic pistol to undercover police then fled when officers attempted to arrest him, Reuters reported. Harris then resisted arrest when officers caught him, according to the statement.
The statement said Bates saw Harris reach into his waistband as he ran, according to the Tulsa World. The sheriff’s office said Bates inadvertently fired his gun, thinking it was a Taser, while Harris struggled with another deputy.
Clark said investigators believed Harris was under the influence of the drug PCP at the time, according to the newspaper.
What does the video show?
The video, which Sheriff’s officials said was recorded on a deputy’s sunglass camera, according to the Associated Press, showed Harris running from the deputies until he was tackled.
A deputy could be heard telling Harris to roll onto his stomach while another person said, “Stop fighting.”
A single shot then rang out, after which someone could be heard saying, “I shot him. I’m sorry.”
Harris reacted: “Oh shit, man, he shot me.”
“You ran motherfucker, you hear me?” a deputy could be heard saying. “You fucking ran. Shut the fuck up.”
A few seconds later Harris told the deputies, “I’m losing my breath.”
“Fuck your breath,” a deputy responded.
What did police say after the video’s release?
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark, who was brought in by the sheriff’s office to investigate the incident, said in a news conference Friday that there was a scientific explanation for why Bates fired his gun instead of a Taser.
Clark said Bates was a “true victim of slips and capture,” a phenomenon the Tulsa World described as when a “person’s behavior ‘slips’ off the path of his or her intention because it is ‘captured’ by a stronger response and sent in a different direction.”
In other words, Clark said, the urgency of the situation caused Bates to draw his gun even though he thought that it was holstered and he’d pulled out a Taser.
Sheriff Stanley Glantz came to Bates’ defense Monday, describing the reserve deputy as a longtime friend who’d made a mistake like a doctor may make in surgery.
“He made an error,” Sheriff Stanley Glantz told The Tulsa World. “How many errors are made in an operating room every week?”
What happens now?
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler announced Monday that Bates had been charged with second-degree manslaughter for the shooting.
This post has been updated.