A retired executive who more or less bought his way on to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department with generous donations of cash and equipment was convicted yesterday for the shooting death of a restrained and unarmed suspect. The reserve deputy claims that he meant to taser Eric Harris, and instead shot him with a .357 Magnum pistol.
Former Reserve Deputy Robert Bates was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter by a jury Wednesday evening after about three hours of deliberation.
Bates, 74, was charged in the April 2, 2015, shooting death of Eric Harris.
Bates was volunteering as a reserve deputy on a Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office drug task force operation when he shot Harris, the target of a gun-sale sting whom deputies were restraining on the ground after a short foot pursuit when he was shot.
The 74-year-old reserve deputy and retired insurance executive was grossly under-trained, and didn’t have any business playing a law enforcement officer. Then again, quite a few reserve officers in law enforcement agencies across the nation fall into that same category, as the process of awarding people a badge for financial support of sheriffs and police chiefs is hardly a new practice.
I don’t know if there is a “typical” role for these reserves nationwide, but to my knowledge (which is admittedly most anecdotal), these reserves are mostly used for roles that do not typically place lives in danger. I’ve heard of them being deployed in search and rescue operations for missing people, or pitching in during natural disasters to divert people away from danger areas. I’ve not typically heard of them being used in arrests or raids unless they have a truly extraordinary pedigree. I do know of former SWAT officers with a lot of experience who still provide perimeter security on raids because of their marksmanship and judgement even though they might not be able to run a ram or chase people down. That’s perfectly acceptable. They’re in a position where they have the experience and skills to be effective, just as another reserve officer friend of mine is an excellent horsewoman who is a vital search and rescue asset in the county where she resides out west.
But those reserves aren’t under-trained 74-year-olds living out a “COPS” fantasy and taking an active role in a high-risk sting operation, either.
I’m sure Robert Bates is a decent man, who donated his time, money, and energy to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office because he sincerely wanted to help make Tulsa County a better, safer place. That does not excuse the fact that he had no business being on a raid without the proper training, and that his lack of competency clearly contributed to his panic under stress and the death of Eric Harris.