ACCIDENTAL, BUT JUSTIFIABLE? Officer Kills Suspect After Confusing Pistol For Taser
Suspected meth dealer and illegal weapon trafficker Eric Courtney Harris, 44, was resisting arrest and making what is often called a “furtive moment” when officer Robert Charles Bates, 73 shot him. In most situations, such a shooting would be viewed by most as clear-cut justifiable homicide.
This fact isn’t likely to assuage the feelings of critics who can’t fathom why a 73-year-old Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) reserve deputy is on a Violent Crimes Task Force, nor why he couldn’t tell the difference between his duty weapon and a taser.
TCSO said investigators are still investigating the shooting. Eric Courtney Harris was killed Thursday in an altercation with a reserve sheriff’s deputy. The deputy was identified as 73-year-old Robert Bates.
They said their preliminary investigation showed that Bates thought he had what he believed was the Taser from his tactical carrier. TCSO said he believed he was using the Taser when he inadvertently discharged his service weapon, firing one round which struck Harris.
TSCO said the task force initiated an investigation into meth on March 26 and that led them to Harris, a convicted felon who, in the course of the investigation, offered to sell a sawed-off shotgun and other guns to the undercover reserve deputies.
They said on April 2, Harris agreed to meet the task force member at 10 a.m. at the Dollar General parking lot in the 2000 block of North Harvard Avenue and sell him a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, along with 300 rounds of ammunition.
TCSO officials said after the transaction an arrest team of deputies approached the car to arrest Harris, but he got out of the car and confronted the deputies. They said he then ran from them, and they saw him reach his waistband, which they said made them concerned.
In most instances where a suspect is reasonably suspected of being armed and he makes a “furtive moment” that could be interpreted as attempting to grab a weapon, it is almost always going to be considered a justifiable homicide. Indeed, if reserve officer Bates had intentionally drawn and fired his duty handgun for that that reason, this would likely be a very simple open-and-shut investigation, novel primarily for Bates’ age.
But Bates admittedly wasn’t trying to shoot Harris with his duty weapon. He was instead trying to taze Harris, who was believed to be high on PCP at the time of the shooting.
Tasers like the X2 and X26/X26P are much lighter than duty handguns, and are typically carried differently (often in a cross-draw holster) in order to minimize the potential for confusion with duty weapons under stress. The investigation is going to raise serious questions about whether Bates was mentally and physically fit to serve on a Violent Crimes Task Force at 73, and whether he was adequately trained with the lethal and less-lethal weapons he was deployed with on April 2.
I don’t think that we’ll see criminal charges against Bates, but the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) is going to come under intense scrutiny focused on their training of officers with their equipment, and for employing officers of such advanced age in a role where fast decision-making and the ability to commit to overwhelming kinetic force is often required to minimize threats to officers, suspects, and bystanders alike.
This could to get ugly, folks.