Guilty, four years in prison.
That was the verdict in the second-degree manslaughter trial of former Tulsa County Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy Robert Bates Wednesday after a six-day trial. Bates was convicted of fatally shooting Eric Harris during an undercover gun buy on April 2, 2015.
Bates was taken into custody immediately, handcuffed and ordered held without bond. As Bates was led away from the courtroom, his daughter cried and said, “I love you, daddy.”
“I love you too,” a stoic Bates replied.
His formal sentencing was scheduled for May 31. His jail booking information listed the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office as his home address.
Bates is being held in segregation in the jail’s medical unit, apparently to keep him separated from other prisoners due to his law enforcement service.
Following a civil trial in federal court, a jury recently found the Sheriff’s Office was deliberately indifferent to a female juvenile prisoner’s civil rights. That verdict was largely based upon a lack of supervision in the medical wing of the jail, where Bates is being held.
Harris’ brother, Andre, and supporters praised the verdict in an emotional statement to a throng of reporters.
“The criminal is behind bars. … Bob Bates was not a qualified reserve deputy,” said Andre Harris, who said his brother was put on trial by defense attorneys.
— Dylan Goforth (@DGoforth918) April 27, 2016
Bates’ attorney, Clark Brewster, said he was disappointed in the outcome and planned to appeal the verdict. Brewster briefly spoke with the media following the verdict.
“We made it clear that this was an accident,” he said. “I’m disappointed in the result, but I respect the process.”
During a six-day trial in Tulsa County District Court, the jury heard testimony from about 20 witnesses for the state and defense. Jurors were charged with deciding whether Bates, a 74-year-old insurance executive, was “culpably negligent” when he shot Harris.
Bates has said he intended to use his Taser on Harris but had his .357 revolver in his hand instead.
The verdict largely brings to a close a year-long saga involving Bates’ shooting of Harris. However, Bates’ longtime friend, former Sheriff Stanley Glanz, has yet to stand trial on two misdemeanors and Bates will also face a federal civil lawsuit related to Harris’ death.
The shooting touched off a chain of events that led to a grand jury indictment of Glanz.
One of the counts involved Glanz’s refusal to turn over a 2009 investigative report on favorable treatment given to Bates by TCSO. The report also found supervisors who expressed concerns about Bates’ lack of training were intimidated by top TCSO officials.
In a pre-trial ruling, District Judge Bill Musseman said prosecutors could not discuss the 2009 report in front of jurors. However, he did not bar prosecutors from asking about Bates’ training if the issue was raised by the defense.
Musseman instituted unusual security measures during the trial, installing a metal detector and deputies at the entrance of his courtroom and barring entry to the courtroom in some cases. The trial was held in Musseman’s relatively small courtroom, though larger courtrooms were available.
The death of Harris, an unarmed black man, came just two days before Walter Scott was gunned down April 4, 2015, by a police officer in South Carolina.
Harris’ death came 10 days before the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray suffered a broken neck during an arrest and transport in a police van. His death sparked violent protests across the city.
Though there were several black prospective jurors, they were all eliminated by defense attorneys for various reasons.
During closing arguments Wednesday, First Assistant District Attorney John David Luton told jurors not to be distracted by the “battle of experts” who have testified during the trial.
Two paid defense experts testified that Harris’ underlying heart issues, not the bullet, caused his death. Their testimony aimed to contradict a pathologist for the state Medical Examiner’s Office who concluded that Harris’ death was caused by his gunshot wound.
“Do you really need an expert, ladies and gentlemen, to determine what happened to Eric Harris?” Luton said.
“Eight minutes after he’s shot, he’s dead. Do we need an expert to tell us he died from a gunshot wound?”
Luton said Harris, a felon recently released from prison, deserved to be chased, tackled, handcuffed and arrested.
“But he doesn’t deserve to be gunned down on North Harvard by Bob Bates. He’s guilty,” Luton told jurors.
Brewster reiterated during his closing arguments that he and the expert witnesses who testified for Bates believed Harris died from a “truly coincidental” heart attack, rather than a gunshot.
“There was no injury, truly,” Brewster told jurors about Harris’ gunshot wound.
Two doctors who treated Harris testified for the state that Harris died from lung collapse and blood loss from the gunshot. They testified that the bullet Bates fired tore a “silver dollar-sized hole” in his right lung, and Harris could be seen in the video of the shooting bleeding from under the right arm.
Bates, Brewster said, should not be condemned for what happened that day. Instead, he should “be admired.”
“He’s someone we should be proud of,” Brewster told jurors, noting that Bates “got out to help” the other deputies. “That’s to be admired.”
He also focused on the role he said Harris played in his own death, saying the ex-convict “made decisions that forced action.”
“His life took a course of violence,” Brewster said. He later added that the shooting was an “accident that was drawn to that point by Mr. Harris.”
Those statements drew a strong rebuttal from Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray in his final statements to the jury. He said the last eight days have been “one of the most interesting and difficult trials I’ve done,” but said it “was the first time he felt that the victim was on trial.”
“It’s a lot more fun to blame the dead guy,” he said.
Gray told jurors that efforts by Brewster to remind jurors of Harris’ past crimes was “another way of reminding you that you shouldn’t care that much.”
Referencing statements by Brewster that deputies were fearful Harris had a gun because his hands were near his waist, Gray pointed at Bates.
“Lots was said about Eric Harris’ hands, but his (Bates’) hands were the hands of death.”
“In his statement, Mr. Bates said this incident was ‘on his conscience,’ Gray finished. “I’m asking you to put it on his record.”
— Ziva Branstetter (@ZivaBranstetter) April 27, 2016
Brewster told jurors he believed they had to find Bates not guilty because none of the witnesses the state used testified Bates was “culpably negligent.” Legally, culpable negligence — rather than standard negligence — refers to indifference to the safety of others.
Gray told jurors that “common sense” told them it was legally wrong to accidentally shoot someone. He said that the more than dozen deputies the state called to testify didn’t need to use the term “culpably negligent” to tell jurors that what Bates did was legally wrong.
Instead, Gray said, when those deputies testified that they would not have shot Harris, or that they would not have used a Taser on Harris, that was their testimony that it was illegal to shoot Harris.
Deputy Lance Ramsey testified about the undercover operations that day, saying Bates called him the night before to ask “if something was going on the next day.”
Though the then-73-year-old insurance executive’s name wasn’t listed on the operations plan for the gun sting, Ramsey said he was added to the group of nine deputies assigned to it. Ramsey said Bates’ job was to carry the “less-lethal” weapons, including Tasers and pepper ball guns.
Two deputies testified that Bates appeared to be asleep in his Tahoe before he shot Harris.
Deputy Miranda Munson, who, along with Deputy Ricardo Vaca, was in a vehicle next to the one Bates drove that day, said she looked over at the reserve deputy, then back at Vaca and said: “Is Bob asleep?”
Munson and Vaca both testified to seeing Bates’ head down for several minutes just before the shooting.
In addition to Munson and Vaca, the jury also heard testimony from deputies Evan Foster, Joseph Byars and Lance Ramsey. All five testified that deadly force, such as what Bates mistakenly used the day of the shooting, was not necessary.
Ramsey told jurors about some of the steps deputies took the day of the shooting to ensure that Harris would not be harmed. He said in 10 years of undercover work, he’d never seen a suspect flee from a gun-buy before.
In one of the videos, Ramsey, who had conducted the undercover buy, was seen walking back to his pickup after Harris had been shot.
“Fuck a duck,” Ramsey said in the video.
Gray asked him about his demeanor in the video, to which Ramsey replied: “I was upset ’cause someone got hurt on one of my deals.”
Vaca, who tackled a fleeing Harris and was wrestling him to the ground when Bates fired his pistol, testified that his first thought upon hearing the gunshot was that he might have been shot.
“I almost got killed,” Vaca said. If the bullet had gone “inches to the right, I’d be dead.”
A ruling by Musseman allowed jurors to hear and view the entire publicly released video of Harris’ shooting. The tape included a comment by Byars to Harris that received national attention: “Fuck your breath.”
However, Byars testified that he had first seen Bates approaching with a rifle-like weapon similar to a pepperball gun, but quickly turned his attention to Harris. So when he heard Harris yell, “He shot me,” he assumed Bates had fired at him with the less-lethal weapon.
Prosecutors said pre-trial rulings limited what evidence they could present but praised the jury for using “common sense” in reaching a verdict.
Is ‘pay to play’ program to blame?
Following the verdict, Andre Harris said Bates never should have been allowed to serve in the undercover task force.
“Did some pay to play?” Harris asked. “Well yes, Bob Bates got to pay to play. Now Bob Bates gets to pay to play in the penitentiary.”
The phrase “pay to play” references TCSO’s reserve deputy program, which allowed wealthy, well-connected friends to serve on undercover task forces, the SWAT unit and other questionable assignments. Bates was a longtime friend of the former sheriff, managed Glanz’s 2010 campaign and donated cars, guns and expensive equipment to the sheriff’s office.
In fact, the laser-sighted .357 revolver he shot Harris with was Bates’ personal weapon and not on the approved list of guns reserves were allowed to carry. During the trial, no witnesses testified about the fact that Bates had not qualified at the shooting range as required by policy on the revolver.
Brewster repeatedly told jurors it would be easy to confuse the revolver and Taser because they are similar in size and weight and both have laser sights, raising questions about why Bates chose to carry the gun on duty.
While some of the approximately 120 reserve deputies were highly qualified former law enforcement officers, others were Glanz campaign donors, politicians and wealthy businessmen who failed to complete the required training to serve as reserve deputies.
Newly elected Sheriff Vic Regalado’s office has said Regalado plans to resume the reserve deputy program but that all reserves must complete required training first. A review of reserve deputy training files by Glanz’s office last year found that more than 80 percent of reserves had deficient training files, including T. Hastings Siegfried, a close advisor and campaign contributor to Regalado.
Siegfried is among the reserve deputies who have donated cars and other items to the sheriff’s office.
Testimony during the grand jury that indicted Glanz revealed while TCSO administrators were taking squad cars away from some ranking members of the agency, an unused patrol car was parked outside of Siegfried’s home for months while he was out of the country on business. Siegfried is vice president of the board of Nordam.
A recent audit paid for by the county concluded the program should be “terminated and reconstituted under a new codified set of policies and procedures.”
“The reserve program with its disregard for proper policies, procedures, supervision, and administrative
controls was simply the most visible manifestation of a system-wide failure of leadership and
supervision,” the audit states.
The Frontier requested all new policies and procedures approved by Regalado, but a spokeswoman said no policy changes have received final approval.