Despite saying he had no relationship — personal or professional — with Robert Bates, the judge who could decide the former reserve deputy’s fate did not disclose he was a reserve at the same time, records show.
District Judge James Caputo is presiding over Bates’ criminal case in the shooting death of Eric Harris during a gun sting by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. Bates is a friend and former campaign manager for Sheriff Stanley Glanz and was allowed to serve on an undercover drug task force as a volunteer reserve deputy.
He is charged with second-degree manslaughter in Harris’ April 2 death after reportedly mixing up his Taser and gun.
Caputo states on his April 22 disclosure form that he worked as a Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy from 1993 through 1999, except for nearly a year’s break during 1995. He also states that his daughter is a civilian employee with the sheriff’s office and that he has known Glanz for 23 years.
“Except for one social occasion, all of my contacts with Sheriff Stanley Glanz have been professional in nature,” the disclosure states.
Caputo’s filing also states: “I have no relationship with Robert Bates, professionally, personally or otherwise.”
While that may be true now, the two both worked as reserve deputies for the sheriff’s office in 2007 and 2008, records reviewed by The Frontier show. Caputo’s disclosure does not mention his past service as a reserve.
Through a clerk, Caputo declined an interview request by The Frontier for this story. He also did not respond to questions emailed to him.
Dan Smolen, an attorney representing Harris’ family, issued a statement asking Caputo to step down from hearing the case.
“We have the utmost respect for Judge Caputo and believe him to be a skilled and honorable judge. Nevertheless, the circumstances surrounding the Bob Bates case require Judge Caputo to recuse,” the statement says.
Caputo began working as a reserve deputy in 2006, records show. At the time, he was a practicing attorney and municipal judge in Collinsville.
Deputy Justin Green, a spokesman for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed Caputo’s service as a reserve, beginning April 11, 2006 and ending Aug., 13, 2008.
It’s unclear why Caputo told KOTV he was sworn in as a reserve in the mid 1990s, which doesn’t line up with the official record of his reserve service.
Because most of Bates’ training records are missing or non-existent, it’s impossible to tell exactly when he began working as a reserve. However in his own statement to investigators four days after Harris’ shooting, Bates said: “I became an advanced reserve deputy in 2007.”
The state judicial code of conduct requires a judge to recuse from a case “in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
While the law lists several specific instances in which judges should recuse, it also states: “A judge is disqualified whenever the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, regardless of whether any of the specific provisions … apply.”
On Tuesday, a citizens group called We The People Oklahoma issued a statement calling on Caputo to recuse from Bates’ case. The group successfully petitioned to empanel a grand jury, which indicted Glanz on two misdemeanors related to his official conduct.
Marq Lewis, founder of the group, said too many connections between Caputo and the sheriff’s office exist for him to impartially preside over Bates’ case. Those connections present at least an appearance of a conflict, Lewis said.
“He should have recused himself based on the fact that his daughter is a civilian who works for the sheriff’s department. Second of all, he also was a reserve deputy during that time,” Lewis said.
“The state is also seeing this information too and the state is not saying anything about it. They must be working on some type of plea deal.”
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he has not filed a motion asking Caputo to recuse from the case because the judge has said he can be impartial.
“Judge Caputo has represented in public that he does not feel that he has a conflict. I’m an officer of the court and if I truly felt that the judge would be conflicted I would do it.”
Kunzweiler was not aware until informed by The Frontier that Caputo served as a reserve deputy along with Bates. He said even so, he has no “factual, good faith basis” to request Caputo’s recusal.
“If he were to come out and say he had some direct supervisory responsibilities over Mr. Bates, obviously I would be concerned about it.”
The Frontier asked Bates’ attorney, Clark Brewster, whether Bates and Caputo had any contact while serving as reserves together and whether the situation could be viewed at least as an apparent conflict.
“That’s a fair question,” he replied via text. “I will propose that the prosecution and I submit that to Judge Caputo … and seek a clear record on that issue.”
While the judge has noted that neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys have asked him to recuse, the state’s judicial code of conduct does not require such a request for a recusal to occur.
One provision of the judicial code of conduct states that judges should disqualify if they have a relative with an “economic interest in the subject matter” of the proceeding.
Caputo’s daughter, Kathryn Caputo was hired in 2013 as a civil clerk for the sheriff’s office and is paid $28,296 annually, as of May.
The sheriff’s office could be financially liable for judgments in the federal civil rights lawsuit over Harris’ death, depending on the outcome. TCSO is also paying legal fees for both Bates’ criminal case and to defend the civil case, records show. Both could have a financial impact on employee raises.
As it did with Bates, the sheriff’s office listed some training records missing from Caputo’s reserve file.
As part of a 2009 investigation into whether Bates was shown favoritism at TCSO and had required training, Sgt. Paul Tryon reviewed training files of some reserve deputies.
Bates’ complete 287-page internal affairs report contains Tryon’s report to Sgt. Rob Lillard on his findings and Tryon’s notes on what he found.
The notes show that Caputo had only a partial background check on file and no record existed of his written test to become a reserve. It was also unknown whether Caputo completed his required mental health review, called an MMPI, because those reports were kept by the undersheriff, Tryon’s report states.
As a former certified deputy, Caputo would have met many of the requirements already to become a reserve but it is unclear whether he met all requirements.
Lewis said We The People and others in the community will be watching Bates’ case closely. For people to have faith in the outcome, the process must be impartial, he said.
“It’s so important for the public to trust the system. It’s extremely important.”