Robert Bates and his attorney Clark Brewster leave the courtroom during a lunch break on the second day of testimony in Bates’ second-degree manslaughter case at the Tulsa County courthouse in Tulsa, OK, April 21, 2016. FRONTIER FILE.

A former Tulsa County reserve deputy who was imprisoned after being convicted of fatally shooting an unarmed black man in 2015 will not speak to a group about prison reform after withdrawing due to backlash to the event.

Robert Bates was set to speak about his experience in prison at OK-CURE’s monthly meeting at Hardesty Regional Library on Saturday afternoon. Bates, who worked for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office as a volunteer deputy, shot and killed 44-year-old Eric Harris during a botched illegal gun sting in 2015. Bates, 73 at the time, spent more than a year in prison after being convicted of second-degree manslaughter.

OK-CURE is a nonprofit organization based in Tulsa that “works to provide the information and tools necessary to help members understand the criminal justice system and advocate for changes,” according to its website.

Kevin Armstrong, president of the organization, told The Frontier he decided to cancel Bates’ appearance Friday morning in the wake of backlash on social media about the event and a fear of possible protest. Armstrong said he was also concerned hosting Bates would stir up “hurt feelings” within the community and would add to the Harris family’s grief.

At the same time, Armstrong said he received a phone call from the library concerned about the crowd size Bates’ appearance might draw.

“I called Bob Bates (Friday) morning, and I said, ‘I don’t think it would be wise to come because I’m actually worried about public safety,’” Armstrong said. “Mr. Bates was very quick to agree.

“He (Bates) said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think this is a good idea for anyone.’”

Armstrong told The Frontier that Charlotte Bates, Bates’ wife, joined the OK-CURE board after her husband had been sentenced to prison. She resigned from the board on Friday morning, Armstrong said.

Her presence on the board “wasn’t any secret,” Armstrong said. “Just nobody really asked.”

Armstrong said she came to a meeting and talked about her husband “because we try to help families of prisoners navigate the system,” Armstrong said.

“She wasn’t asking us for an special favor.”

Bates first attended an OK-CURE meeting in January , Armstrong said. The former volunteer deputy later approached Armstrong about possibly speaking at one of the gatherings at a later date.

Armstrong said Bates called him two weeks ago asking to speak at the upcoming meeting.
“He (Bates) said ‘I really saw a whole different side of prison and what goes on in there. I’m on board with you all, we need to reform our system. I met a lot of people who didn’t need to be there,’” Armstrong recalled.

Armstrong said despite the controversy surrounding Bates, he believed the man could offer an unique perspective with his law enforcement background.

“He still experienced a lot,” Armstrong said. “I was sympathetic.”

Still, Armstrong said, he didn’t want to “dredge up” controversy and hurt, which ultimately, outweighed the benefits of having Bates speak.

“That’s why we shut it down, not because we were scared,” Armstrong said.

“The message would be totally lost on the messenger, and he wouldn’t be able to speak about criminal justice reform,” Armstrong said.

Bates was charged in 2015 after killing Eric Harris during a botched undercover drug sting in north Tulsa. An undercover deputy on the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office’s drug task force was attempting to buy an illegal firearm from Harris when Harris noticed other undercover officers closing in and fled.

Two deputies tackled Harris not long after, and Bates — 73 years old at the time and a volunteer on the task force — arrived and shot the subdued Harris once under the right arm, killing him.
Bates told investigators four days after the shooting that he had intended to use his Taser on Harris, and video recording by a surveillance camera purchased by Bates for the task force recording him announcing “Taser! Taser!” as he arrived on the scene.

Bates went on trial about a year after the shooting, and was convicted after a six-day trial in which his defense argued that the shooting was not only excusable, it was not the cause of Harris’ death. Bates’ attorney Clark Brewster said in the trial that a medical expert’s report showed that Harris died of a drug-induced heart attack, rather than the bullet that pierced him under his right arm pit.

The four-year sentence recommended by Bates’ jury and upheld by a judge was the maximum allowable punishment in Oklahoma for second-degree manslaughter. It also made Bates one of only a handful of law enforcers around the nation convicted for a fatal on-duty shooting.

Second-degree manslaughter is not one of Oklahoma’s “85 percent statutes,” crimes in which a convicted person must serve 85 percent of the sentence before even being considered for probation or parole. Bates was one of thousands of inmates across who was able to earn credits during his incarceration in order to speed up his release and exited prison after less than two years behind bars.

The shooting not only landed Bates in prison — it touched off a chain of events that led to a grand jury indictment of former Sheriff Stanley Glanz, who resigned after nearly three decades as Tulsa County’s top cop.