Robert Bates, the volunteer Oklahoma deputy reserve who shot an unarmed black man in Tulsa earlier this month, pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter charges on Tuesday.
The judge set a hearing for July 2, and allowed Bates to take a previously scheduled vacation to the Bahamas. Bates did not address reporters when he entered and left the court.
Bates, a 73-year-old insurance broker, had volunteered for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office as a reserve deputy since 2008. He is being accused of fatally shooting 44-year-old Eric Harris during an undercover operation on April 2 in Tulsa. Bates has said he accidentally fired his gun at Harris instead of his Taser. The district attorney last week charged Bates with second-degree manslaughter. If convicted, Bates could face a maximum of four years in jail and a fine of no more than $1,000.
Harris was part of a sting operation set up to catch him selling guns and drugs. Video of the incident shows Harris exiting a car and running from the police. A foot chase ensued, and an officer wearing a body camera caught up to Harris and tackled him to the ground. Footage from that video reveals the sounds of a Taser and gun, as well as a voice saying, “I shot him. I’m sorry.” Harris said, “I’m losing my breath,” to which a deputy responded: “F— your breath.” Harris died an hour later at a nearby hospital.
A lawyer for the Harris family, Dan Smolen, told reporters on Tuesday that he wasn’t surprised by Bates’ decision to plead not guilty, but he didn’t expect the judge to allow for his vacation.
“Whether intended or not, Mr. Bates’ vacationing in the Bahamas at this time sends a message of apathy with respect to the shooting and Eric’s life,” Smolen said. “At a time when we are still mourning the death of a loved one that he shot down in the street, Mr. Bates will be relaxing and enjoying his wealth and privilege.”
Bates has said he accidentally fired his gun at Harris instead of his Taser. He surrendered for booking to authorities in Tulsa last Tuesday. Over the weekend, his lawyer released training records from 2009 to 2014 indicating that Bates successfully qualified to use a handgun 10 times and took at least one Taser class.
On Monday, Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz defended Bates’ presence at the scene on April 2.