Attorneys representing the estate of Eric Harris filed a 56-page complaint in federal court Monday adding portions detailing Harris’ death at the hands of former reserve deputy Robert Bates on April 2, as well as the Feb. 15, 2015, incident where Bates is alleged to have used his Taser during a sting.
Bates, according to a police report from that date, used his stun gun to shock Terry Byrum, a man who was arrested that day following a traffic stop.
The Harris and Byrum incidents share several key details. Byrum, according to the report, was on the ground, having already been handcuffed and subdued by deputies when Bates arrived, placed his foot on Byrum’s head and fired his Taser.
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The filing of the lawsuit came on the same day Tulsa’s Board of County Commissioners approved the sheriff’s office’s use of an outside attorney to fight a grand jury inquest. The contract between the sheriff’s office and McDonald, McCann, Metcalf and Carwile says the firm can charge the county between $165 and $265 per hour.
The firm joined the sheriff’s fight last week after We The People Oklahoma collected more than 6,600 signatures of Tulsa County residents seeking a grand jury investigation of TCSO. Sheriff Stanley Glanz has said that the page used by the grassroots group to collect signatures was “not legal,” and thus the proceedings — District Judge Rebecca Nightingale could impanel a jury anytime in the next three weeks — should be halted.
Laurie Phillips, the attorney working for We The People Oklahoma, said over the weekend that she believed state statutes would not allow the sheriff’s office to hire outside counsel.
Typically, when the sheriff’s office is sued, the district attorney will act as representation. However, in this case, District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler has recused himself, since his office has filed second-degree manslaughter charges against Bates.
Phillips has maintained that if the DA cannot act on behalf of the sheriff’s office for any reason, that leaves just two options: Utilize in-house general counsel or pay for outside services. Her argument has been that since TCSO employs its general counsel Meredith Baker, the only option remaining for Glanz was to pay for Carwile out of his own pocket.
But county commissioners disagreed on Monday on a 3-0 vote. Assistant District Attorney Doug Wilson advised commissioners that while the statute is “inartfully written,” it is his belief that it allows for the sheriff to hire private counsel using public funds.
County Commissioner Ron Peters said following Monday’s meeting that payment for Glanz’s outside counsel would be paid not by sales tax dollars but out of the sheriff’s office’s “fee account,” which is funded by things like civil warrants and fingerprinting services.