The estate of Eric Harris, a Tulsa man gunned down in a botched gun sting in 2015 that garnered national headlines, has settled with the defendants in the civil case for $6 million.
The $6 million figure is likely the largest settlement for an excessive force violation in Oklahoma’s history.
Harris family attorney Dan Smolen said in a release: “This settlement ends a long and tumultuous road for the Harris family. The family hopes resolution of this lawsuit will, at long last, provide some level of closure for the Harris family, including Eric’s brother, Andre, and his son, Aiden.”
On the day he was killed, Harris, 44, was selling a handgun to an undercover Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy in the parking lot of a northside Dollar General. When other undercover deputies arrived to arrest him, Harris fled up North Harvard Avenue before being quickly subdued.
The encounter was recorded on video via cameras purchased by TCSO reserve deputy Robert Bates, a millionaire insurance executive and close friend of then-sheriff Stanley Glanz.
Seconds after Harris was tackled, the footage shows Bates appear. While deputies pile on Harris, Bates exclaims “Taser! Taser!” just before the sound of a single gunshot can be heard.
“I shot him,” Bates says, “I’m sorry.”
“Oh he shot me, I didn’t do shit! He shot me man,” Harris is recorded saying.
“You didn’t do shit? You didn’t do shit? You hear me?” one deputy responded.
“I’m losing my breath,” Harris gasped.
The deputy responded: “Fuck your breath.”
Harris was transported to a local hospital where he died not long after.
Bates later told investigators he believed he was holding a Taser when he shot Harris once under the right arm. Bates also said he believed Harris — who was unarmed — might have had a handgun tucked into his basketball shorts.
The shooting kicked off one of the most turbulent eras in recent Tulsa history. Bates, it was learned, had been a close confident of Glanz for years, routinely purchasing equipment for the sheriff’s office and donating thousands of dollars to Glanz’s reelection campaigns.
Sources at the sheriff’s office told reporters Bates had long been a source of consternation there — his close ties to Glanz allowed him free reign through what was supposed to be a well-trained advanced reserve deputy force. Bates’ training — more than 400 hours was required to become an advanced reserve — was likely falsified, sources at the sheriff’s office said at the time.
The shooting led to a grand jury investigation of the sheriff’s office. The grand jury met for nine weeks and issued two indictments against Glanz — one for unlawfully withholding an internal affairs report on Bates and one for collecting a $600 monthly allowance while driving a county car. Glanz, who had been sheriff for nearly three decades, pleaded guilty to one and no contest to the other and swiftly resigned.
In 2016 Bates was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to the maximum four years in prison. (Bates was released from prison last year about 2 ½ years early.) Earlier this week Bates’ attorneys asked an appellate court to overturn its earlier to decision affirming Bates’ manslaughter conviction.
“Bates went to prison, a lot of people would say he didn’t serve enough time but he did go,” Andre Harris said. “So he’s a felon, and he’s in the exact same position as my brother as a felon … now Bates is a felon and he just cost the county $6 million and my brother never (killed) anybody.
“If you wanted to compare the character of these two people, you’d say Eric had the better character.”
It wasn’t just Glanz that was forced to leave the sheriff’s office: A parade of other top officials were fired or pushed to resign.
Gone were Undersheriff Tim Albin and Capt. Tom Huckeby, both central figures in the 2009 internal affairs investigation into Bates’ favorable treatment. Glanz, known for his hands-off management style, would say he “put too much trust” in Albin, who rose through the ranks during a 30-year career at TCSO.
Next to go was Major Shannon Clark, the agency’s public information officer. Capt. Billy McKelvey followed shortly after Clark.
Clark and McKelvey both told The Frontier later they were pushed out because Glanz incorrectly believed they had a hand in leaking the Bates internal affairs report.
Clark told The Frontier he refused to lie to reporters about the existence of the internal report.
McKelvey said the report was found in an area that many people, including inmate trustees, had access to.
Both said they remained loyal to the sheriff while they worked for him but Glanz used them as scapegoats.
Current sheriff Vic Regalado, who was elected after Glanz resigned, issued the following statement on Friday.
“Today I announce that all claims resulting from the death of Eric Harris on April 2, 2015, have now been settled,” Regalado said. “It’s in the best interest of all parties involved to resolve these claims at this time. I believe this decision will allow the process of healing to continue for the Harris family, the citizens of Tulsa County and the hard working men and women of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.”