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On April 2, 2015, Eric Harris was killed by 73 year old TCSO reserve deputy Robert Bates when the 73 year old deputy confused his gun and his taser and shot Harris in the back.

Harris was the target of an undercover sting and “had come to the attention of the Sheriff’s Office during an investigation into methamphetamine distribution.

On the day of the shooting, Harris had “met a task force member in the parking lot of a Dollar General at 1906 N. Harvard Ave. to sell him a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and ammunition, then ran when other deputies tried to take him into custody.” The official report continued:

After a brief foot pursuit, a deputy attempted to physically restrain Harris. As Harris continued to resist arrest, the struggle went to the ground where Harris refused to pull his left arm out from underneath his body where his hand was near his waistband. During the rapidly evolving altercation, the reserve deputy had what he believed was his Taser from his tactical carrier and attempted to render aid in subduing the suspect. Initial reports have determined that the reserve deputy was attempting to use less lethal force, believing he was utilizing a Taser, when he inadvertently discharged his service weapon, firing one round which struck Harris.

This is clearly shown in the video:

  • At 34 seconds, a deputy says, “Taser”
  • At 36.5 seconds, you hear the sound of a single gunshot striking Harris in the back
  • At 38 seconds, a deputy says, “I shot him, I’m sorry.”

As the video rolls, Harris can be seen face down screaming in pain while an officer kneels on his head and another officer places him in handcuffs. And then, around 1:08, Eric Harris says, “I’m losing my breath”, to which the officer responded, “F*ck your breath.”

That one quote will probably drown out the rest of the discussion of this video. And that is unfortunate, because this officer’s attitude is symptomatic of a larger problem. Even if this one officer is identified and terminated, the system that produced him will remain. And as long as that system is in place, it will continue producing officers like him.

In order to change the system, you need to understand what is wrong with it. And one of the biggest problems in law enforcement is the lack of accountability.

The Police Are Never Wrong

Watching the video and listening to Robert Bates’s response, it seems obvious that he did not intend to kill Eric Harris. He made a mistake and he realized it instantly. That’s why he said, “Sorry.”

But when the department was asked about the shooting, did they admit that it was mistake? Of course not:

Asked if he thought the shooting was justified, [Sheriff Stanley] Glanz said, “That is a hard word for me to answer…It was unintentional. You know, justified means you had reason to do something. He had reason to get the gun out when the guy was fleeing.”

Glanz won’t admit what is obvious to anyone watching the video – that it’s not okay to hold a suspect down and shoot him in the back, even if it’s an accident. The desire to spin the facts to so that the cops are always right is one of the reasons that people are losing faith in police departments across the country.

The problem is not that police make mistakes, but that they are not held accountable for them.

But who is going to hold the police accountable when they are responsible for investigating themselves? In the Eric Harris shooting, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office investigated itself and found no wrongdoing:

The sheriff’s office did not ask an independent agency to investigate the incident. Instead, it conducted its own investigation, concluding that the deputy’s accidental use of the gun was excusable homicide, not a crime.

Once they had concluded that they had done nothing wrong, they brought in another Tulsa police officer to agree with them:

After the sheriff’s department completed its investigation, it brought in Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark to review its findings as a private consultant…Police Sgt. Clark defended Bates to reporters Saturday, declaring him blameless and citing a scientific theory he called “slips and capture” to explain how Bates could have confused a gun with a Taser.

According to Sgt. Jim Clark – and science! – Bates was blameless in the shooting of Eric Harris. But Clark didn’t stop at absolving Bates. He claimed that  Bates was the true victim:

It is my opinion, after reviewing all the facts and circumstances of this case, [the state’s excusable homicide statute] was applicable in this incident… Reserve Deputy Bates did not commit a crime. Reserve Deputy Bates was a victim, a true victim, of ‘slips and capture.’ There’s no other determination I could come to.” [emphasis added]

Because Clark is a Tulsa police sergeant, he gives the impression that the TPD investigated this incident and agreed with the Sheriff’s department’s finding. And yet the Tulsa Police Department was specifically NOT asked to investigate the shooting:

Tulsa Police Department homicide Sgt. Dave Walker said Friday that although the homicide took place in the city limits, TPD would not investigate the death unless the Sheriff’s Office asked them to. “And they have not asked us to,” Walker said.

And why should they? According to Sheriff Glanz, this was all just an honest mistake:

“[Deputy Bates] made an error. How many errors are made in an operating room every week?”

I don’t know. But I do know that zero of those errors were made by 73 year old “reserve medical doctors” who didn’t know a scalpel from a clamp but still got to perform surgery because they donated money to the hospital and were friends with the surgeon.


6 Responses

  1. Madeline Brashear

    Don’t you people not know the right wingers are all tooth and nail in for police brutality against black men and boys? Do you not read social media? Go on and vote for your republican but you’ll be cutting your own throats. Now have at it. But I so wish you wouldn’t allow yourselves to be exploited by these people who mean you no good down where the rubber meets the road.

    • Jason

      I’m thinking that I should just stop trying and reflexively think that Eric Harris deserved what he got……because even though I watched the video with a fuming spite for the cop who uttered “F your breath”, I’m still accused of enjoying whenever a cop guns down a black man by the likes of you who have nothing other than throwing that label around. Why should I even try? Why hold a door open for an elderly black woman when I’m a filthy racist regardless of what I do? Why feel bad for Tamir Rice, Eric Garner……..etc? I’m sure you don’t feel bad for the family of Brendan Tevlin, I’m sure you secretly applaud it. See how that works? Maybe we should just take the gloves off, get our guns and just have it out and stop pretending we’re a united country.

  2. Desiree M. Brown

    The recent outrage sweeping the nation, regarding the Confederate Flag, is astounding.
    Those individuals, and organizations responsible for quickly bringing this issue to the forefront; should now use the same tactics to address the economy and extremely high unemployment rate across the nation.


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