Oklahoma Volunteer Deputy Convicted of Killing Unarmed Black Man

The inexperienced volunteer deputy who fatally shot an unarmed Black man in Oklahoma last April was convicted of second-degree manslaughter on Wednesday.


Robert Bates, 74, who was a volunteer reserve deputy for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, claimed he meant to use his Taser but “inadvertently” fired his gun when he killed Eric Courtney Harris.

Harris was the subject of a sting operation when he ran from police. Officers caught up to Harris, tackled him and were holding him on the ground when Bates rushed out of his car, jumped on top of Harris and shot him in the back.

According to the sheriff’s office, Bates was supposed to be providing backup and parked several blocks away. Prosecutor John Luton told the jury Bates was nodding off in his car prior to the incident.

Bates’ lack of proper training and his close relationship with former Sheriff Stanley Glanz including his having donated thousands of dollars to the Tulsa Sheriff’s Office

were both called into question following the shooting, with many saying he should not have been there in the first place. Bates was the CEO of an insurance company and had served as a reserve deputy since 2008. He worked for the Tulsa Police Department in the mid-1960s but left after only one year.

Back in 2009, the Tulsa Sheriff’s Office launched an internal investigation to determine if Bates received special treatment during training and while working as a reserve deputy after other deputies raised concerns. The investigation concluded that Bates had not received proper training and had, in fact, been given preferential treatment.

Deputies reportedly described Bates’ behavior in the field as “scary,” but they were told by supervisors to “stop messing with [Bates] because he does a lot … for the county.”

“The case, though, is not only about Mr. Bates’ conduct, but it’s about why he was allowed to be there to begin with,” Harris family attorney Dan Smolen said following the shooting.

Glanz resigned in November.

Defense witness Dr. Charles Morgan, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that Bates may have pulled his gun during the arrest because people tend to resort to their habits, not training, during times of “uncontrollable stress.”

“Bob Bates didn’t act with usual and ordinary care,” Luton, the prosecutor, said in his closing argument. “He also didn’t do what a reasonable person would do under similar circumstances. Eric Harris deserved to be chased, he deserved to be tackled, he deserved to be arrested. He did not deserve to be killed by reserve deputy Bob Bates.”

The all-white jury, consisting of six women and eight men, deliberated for less than three hours and recommended Bates serve four years in prison, the maximum possible sentence. Preliminary sentencing is set for May 31.

Following Bates’ conviction, Harris’ brother Andre said his family was relieved. “I thank God for the conviction,” he said. “I hope he’s taught a lesson that all lives matter.”

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