Oklahoma law enforcement officials say it was an accident when a reserve deputy reached for his gun and fatally shot an unarmed black man in Tulsa, adding that the white officer had meant to pull out his Taser.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office released footage of the shooting, showing the fatal encounter from April 2 in detail.
Officials say Deputy Bob Bates opened fire on Eric Harris after he tried to flee an undercover gun deal. Harris, an ex-con, was caught allegedly trying to sell a 9 mm. semiautomatic pistol and ammunition to the Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes Task Force. As a reserve deputy, Bates is not an active member of the task force – he is a deputized civilian.
After getting suspicious of the undercover officers, Harris bolts, and is seen in the video running in Bates’ direction. The deputy chases after him, yelling “Taser! Taser!”
A single gunshot rings out.
“I shot him!” Bates says, dropping his gun. “I’m sorry.”
From there, Harris yells out as he’s being wrestled on the ground with several deputies. “He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my God. I’m losing my breath,” Harris says in the video. The deputies yell expletives as Harris is pinned down at his neck and head. “You shouldn’t have f—–g ran!” one says. “Shut the f— up!”
Harris died later in the hospital.
According to the Tulsa World, Bates, 73, is a former police officer who served one year on Tulsa’s force – between 1964 and 1965. He became a deputy reserve in 2008. But in his seven years as a deputized civilian, Bates underwent just 276 hours of training, the local NBC affiliate KJRH reported. Bates was not originally scheduled to join the task force the day of the shooting, but was “thrust into the situation,” authorities said in a press conference Friday.
The Sheriff’s Office blamed the incident as a mistaken “slips and capture” – when an individual intends to do one thing, but instead does another. Bate intended to reach for his Taser, but mistakenly went for his gun, officials said.
“Deputy Bates did not commit a crime. Reserve Deputy Bates was a victim, a true victim, of slips and capture,” Sergeant Jim Clark said, according to KJRH.
The Harris family had called on law enforcement officials to release the video of the shooting incident to the public.
“How do you actually mistake a Taser for a .38? You don’t mistake it,” the victim’s brother, Andre Harris, told KJRH.
The dramatic video footage is just the latest officer-involved shooting of an unarmed black man to be caught on camera. Last week, Walter Scott was fatally shot in South Carolina after trying to flee a confrontation with a police officer that began out of a routine traffic stop. A day after video footage of the fatal encounter was released, the officer who pulled the trigger was charged with murder and fired from the police force.