The video of Bob Bates pulling his gun on a handcuffed man raises new questions about why he was allowed to continue accompanying the Tulsa County Sheriff’s drug task force during undercover operations.
Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a three-part series about the death of Eric Harris and the downfall of then-Sheriff Stanley Glanz.
The sun isn’t up yet as Reserve Deputy Bob Bates stands outside a rundown mobile home, aiming his Taser at a naked man lying face down on the porch in front of him.
The thin, 35-year-old Hispanic man is moaning in pain, hands cuffed behind his tattooed back. Inside the trailer, deputies in bulletproof vests scream: “Sheriff’s office! Search warrant!”
Bates, wearing a tan Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office uniform and bulletproof vest, holds a yellow Taser in his right hand, as if ready to fire. A white light beams from the barrel of the Taser.
“Back up. This fellow’s gonna get a second round,” Bates says to a deputy nearby, whose glasses camera records the scene.
“What are you moaning about?” Bates asks the man, now partially covered with a fleece blanket. “What’s the matter with ya’?”
Bates, now holding his Taser in his left hand, pulls out a black handgun from a holster on his hip with his right hand.
Deputy Ricardo Vaca is standing over the man on the porch a few feet away from Bates.
“Stop, stop,” Vaca whispers loudly at Bates. The video, obtained by The Frontier, shows Bates putting the gun away, saying nothing.
The date is March 12, 2015.
Three weeks later, the reserve deputy would draw his gun again while standing over a man face down on the ground. This time, Bates would shoot and kill the unarmed man, Eric Harris, causing a cascade of events that would bring down Bates’ friend, seven-term Sheriff Stanley Glanz.
The video of the search, at a mobile home near Riverside Drive and South 84th Street, raises new questions about why Bates was allowed to continue accompanying the Tulsa County Sheriff’s drug task force during undercover operations. Bates had not completed the required field training but supervisors were pressured to sign off on his qualifications anyway.
Though Bates had both his Taser and a firearm pointed at a handcuffed man, The Frontier found that the report completed by the Sheriff’s Office about the March 12 arrest doesn’t list Bates’ name or state that anyone pulled a weapon. He’s also not listed as a witness in charges filed in the case.
TCSO deputies and reserve officers are supposed to file use of force reports any time they draw a weapon, Acting Sheriff Michelle Robinette said.
The man on the porch, Alejandro Eutimio, had no criminal record and was given a suspended sentence for possession of methamphetamine. His former attorney said Eutimio, who was undocumented, has probably been deported.
Bates’ attorney, Clark Brewster, declined a request for an interview on Bates’ behalf from The Frontier and our media partner, NewsOn6. Scott Wood, who represents Glanz in his criminal case, also declined comment.
Previously, Bates has insisted he did not intend to shoot Harris and believes his intention to use the Taser was justified given the situation. Glanz also defended his longtime friend’s conduct, adding Bates would have been justified in shooting Harris had he meant to.
The Tulsa County District Attorney’s office disagreed with both, charging Bates with second-degree manslaughter, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
The video of the drug task force’s pre-dawn raid reflects the depth of dysfunction under the sheriff.
Raids were carried out in the city limits by a county task force that at times had little oversight. For the arrest of a relatively small-time meth dealer in a small mobile home, the Sheriff’s Office brought at least nine deputies.
Along on that raid (and later the sting where Harris was shot) were Deputy Michael Huckeby and his father, Maj. Tom Huckeby.
Maj. Huckeby’s alleged abusive and racist behavior toward black employees and inmates at the jail were the subject of a civil rights lawsuit that had already cost the county $1.2 million. In a deposition, he once referred to the Sheriff’s Office as “a paramilitary operation.”
At 24, the younger Huckeby lacked experience most officers serving on such undercover units would have. His father was also supervising him in violation of TCSO policy.
In the video of Harris’ shooting, Deputy Michael Huckeby pinned Harris’ head down with his knee as the 44-year-old man frantically said he was having trouble breathing. The response by Deputy Joe Byars— “fuck your breath”— fueled outrage over the shooting. Harris’ death in 2015 followed several high-profile law enforcement cases in other states involving excessive or deadly force used against unarmed black men.
Along for the ride was Bates, a wealthy, 73-year-old insurance executive whose close ties to the sheriff allowed him to circumvent many rules while serving as a reserve deputy.
Bates bragged to a former business partner in 2012 that his connections with the sheriff enabled him to punish enemies with the help of his attorney, Brewster. The well-known criminal defense attorney, also a friend of the sheriff, earned lucrative legal fees defending Glanz in a growing number of civil rights lawsuits.
In the tape recorded conversation that was part of a business lawsuit, Bates noted that Brewster “knows I’ve done some shit for him at the Sheriff’s Office … for some of his clients.”
Indeed, records show in at least one case, Bates took part in a search linked to one of Brewster’s cases.
In October 2011, Bates and other members of the sheriff’s drug task force searched an apartment at the Mayo Hotel rented by a 27-year-old man. The man was battling his estranged wife, represented by Brewster, in a divorce for financial control of an energy company.
The drug task force seized a bong — which the search warrant mentions was “affectionately named Jeffrey”— and about two ounces of pot from the man’s apartment. In a deposition, an attorney in Brewster’s firm repeatedly questioned the man about the drug search, although charges hadn’t been filed.
Records show the man was charged by the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office with drug possession the same day as that deposition, though the search had occurred a month earlier.
Court records also show Bates savored the rush of adrenaline that his reserve officer duties brought him.
“That’s about the only exciting thing I do,” he said in the tape recorded conversation. The conversation was taped by the president of Bates’ former company and made part of a lawsuit involving the company.
“It’s the kind of thing that I need to go back to do to scare the shit out of me, to make me feel good … You know, I love that.”
A powerful friendship
Glanz has said he first met Bates 25 years ago, when the newly elected sheriff needed to find an insurance agent. The two may have also crossed paths as rookie cops at the Tulsa Police Department in 1965.
While Glanz rose through TPD’s ranks over the next 24 years, Bates lasted just one year as a police officer. It’s unclear why he left.
Bates started his own insurance company in 1977 and built it into a $6 million business by the time he sold it more than two decades later. He waged a protracted legal battle with the buyer, who claimed Bates set up a competing business to siphon business away from his former company.
He settled the lawsuit in October and now operates his own company, Commercial Insurance Brokers LLC, out of his $600,000 Tulsa home. The sandstone two-story home with a turret sits on a cul de sac in south Tulsa.
Bates is known for his brash personality and has an interest in firearms. Until recently, he held a federal gun dealer’s license.
He owns an $800,000 home in Vero Beach, Fla., where he sought refuge from the publicity a few days after pleading not guilty in Harris’ death. Bates told the newspaper in his beach community he was sorry he “accidentally took another man’s life.”
“All I can think about … is how much it would help my wife, Charlotte, and me to be able to get away to Vero Beach and be free of the faces peering in our windows all hours of the day and night,” Bates told the newspaper.
Charlotte Bates, his 62-year-old second wife, owns a medical spa in south Tulsa, where she sells products from her own skincare line and cosmetic services. She also sells a line of temporary body tattoos, under the company name Bang Bang.
On NBC’s Today show two weeks after he fatally shot Harris, Bates told host Matt Lauer: “You know this is the second worst thing that’s ever happened to me, or the first. … I had cancer a couple of years ago.”
For his only television interview since the shooting, Bates was surrounded by his wife, Brewster, and his daughters, Leslie McCrary and Kathleen Bates.
Glanz appointed McCrary along with Brewster’s wife and daughter to lucrative patronage jobs appraising foreclosed properties for the sheriff’s office.
After the shooting, the Sheriff’s Office provided Bates with an attorney who would not allow investigators to take his statement for several days. Bates said the delay was “due to my being so distraught and upset over this incident.”
In addition to recovering from the shock, Bates and his attorney, Scott Wood, were apparently hard at work over the next several days. Wood billed the Sheriff’s Office for more than 24 hours of legal assistance to Bates on April 3, 4 and 5, all before Bates gave his statement the morning of April 6.
Bates’ use of force escalated
Harris’ shooting and the search in which Bates drew his weapon on a handcuffed man three weeks earlier weren’t isolated incidents. They were the culmination of incidents in which Bates used force in a questionable manner, but continued serving with the undercover task force.
Two months before the shooting, Bates allegedly used his Taser on a handcuffed man, Terry Byrum, during a traffic stop. In a lawsuit against the county, Byrum alleges he was arrested and handcuffed in February 2015, then zapped by Bates with a Taser for no apparent reason.
Bates used some type of force — either his gun or pepper ball launcher — once in 2010, once in 2011 and twice in 2012, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
However, the records did not include the tasing of Byrum, Bates pulling his firearm in March 2015 or Harris’ shooting. If those incidents were included, Bates would rank No. 3 among reserve deputies when it comes to use of force, according to a review by The Frontier.
Meanwhile, Bates purchased cars and expensive equipment for the drug task force, including the iVUE recording glasses that captured video of him shooting Harris. Byrum’s federal lawsuit mentions gifts of watches, vacations and even mortgages paid for by the longtime insurance executive.
Bates was appointed as a reserve without required screening or entry tests. Within three months, his Dodge Charger was equipped with lights, a radio and other police gear, all paid for by the county, according to a memo written by Eric Kitch, the sergeant in charge of the reserve program.
When the sergeant in charge of the reserve program learned Bates was driving a car equipped with lights and a radio, he wrote a memo noting that Bates had not completed the required 480 hours of field training to do so.
“This deliberate indifference has continued from the hiring of reserve Deputy Bates,” Sgt. Eric Kitch wrote in a memo to a captain.
When another sergeant confronted Bates about stopping motorists, Bates reportedly said: “If you don’t like it, you can talk to Tim Albin or Sheriff Glanz because I’m going to do it.”
Albin later chastised the sergeant, Randy Chapman for confronting Bates about his lack of training.
“You’re dicking around with Bates,” Albin told Chapman. “You need to stop messing with him because he does a lot of good for the county.”
Those revelations are contained in a 2009 internal report requested by former Undersheriff Brian Edwards that examined whether Bates received preferential treatment. As first reported by The Frontier, the report found that Huckeby and Albin created “an atmosphere in which employees were intimidated to fail to adhere to policies in a manner which benefits Reserve Deputy Bates.”
Shannon Clark, former public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, recently discussed the fallout from Bates’ shooting during an exclusive interview with The Frontier and NewsOn6. Though Clark was being told the report didn’t exist, reporters were telling him they had it.
“I told them that I could no longer continue to deny the existence of the report, just because the media knew it, I knew it. … They had to give me something to come out with.”
The sheriff and Governmental Affairs Director Terry Simonson “developed a strategy” for dealing with the growing crisis on their own, Clark said.
Statements by Glanz and the Sheriff’s Office about that report seemed to change with the wind.
The Sheriff’s Office initially said it did not have the report and then launched an investigation into who leaked it. A judge recently refused to dismiss a misdemeanor count against Glanz regarding his failure to release the report, which had been requested by numerous media outlets.
The heat wave
In addition to revealing lapses in Bates’ training, the 2009 report revealed wider problems with the sheriff’s reserve deputy program. Initially pitched as a way to save taxpayers money, it turned into a “pay-for-play” system in which some wealthy friends and contributors to Glanz were allowed to serve on SWAT and undercover forces.
A recent report commissioned by the Sheriff’s Office recommended scrapping the program, which has been on hold since last year, and starting from scratch. The report found that reserves “appear to assign themselves to duties with little pre-approval or oversight.”
During a radio interview with KFAQ’s Pat Campbell two weeks after the shooting, Glanz said his reserve program provided valuable service to the community.
“Out of the 140 or so reserve deputies I have, I have probably five or six that are from the wealthier side of this community and they provide assistance for my deputies. I’ve been criticized for that and I think it’s uncalled for.”
A database of reserve deputy applications built by The Frontier shows there are few women and minorities among the reserves. Many have connections to the former sheriff, either as campaign contributors or executives who do business with the Sheriff’s Office.
Several reserves have had financial relationships with the Sheriff’s Office, including attorney Reuben Davis and CPA Ron Emmons. Dan Witham, chairman of the committee that oversees the jail sales tax, is also a reserve.
Reserve Deputy Sam Ives is a retired airline pilot who spent nearly all of his reserve hours last year racing a jet-fueled car he owned called the Tulsa County Heat Wave. The car is equipped “with the latest emergency lighting equipment” and is sponsored by both Tulsa County and the Sheriff’s office, according to the Heat Wave website.
The car is billed as an educational program and Ives received more than $4,000 per month to operate it, according to court filings. It’s unclear how much the Sheriff’s Office contributed to that amount but Acting Sheriff Michelle Robinette said the sheriff’s office is no longer paying expenses for the car.
Another shooting questioned
Mark Williamson, who retired from the Sheriff’s Office as a captain in 2005 after 18 years, said a handful of reserve deputies provided valuable service while others seemed more interested in collecting their guns, badges and uniforms.
“From what I observed, if we had 160 reserves, we had probably 10 percent that really fulfilled the function.”
Reuben Davis, who served for many years as an attorney for the Sheriff’s Office, was among the reserves appointed to the agency’s SWAT team, despite being in his 70s.
“Probably at least half of the (SWAT) members were reserves. … I never thought it was a good idea,” Williamson said.
One operation involving Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel in 2005 was particularly troubling to Williamson. Yazel was among six reserve deputies who accompanied full-time Tulsa County deputies to Okmulgee County in 2005 to arrest a man named Danny Foutch.
The show of force in another county was reportedly motivated by Foutch’s behavior after he had escaped from Albin while wearing handcuffs. Foutch is said to have mailed the handcuffs back to Albin at the Sheriff’s Office.
After a deputy used a loudspeaker to call Foutch out of the trailer, official reports state he ran toward Yazel and Reserve Deputy Brian Pounds, also an employee in Yazel’s office.
Both Yazel’s wife and Pounds’ wife work for the Sheriff’s Office and Glanz’s wife works for Yazel.
The official report states Foutch ran into Pounds, knocked him to the ground and tried to gain control of Pounds’ firearm. Yazel then fired his .30-caliber rifle at Foutch, who was 46 feet away, the report states, striking him in the buttocks.
Williamson was assigned to investigate the shooting for the Sheriff’s Office.
Yazel had already left the scene by the time Williamson arrived. Though Pounds was supposedly struggling on the ground for the gun, “there’s no dirt or grass stains or leaves on the back of his uniform or his shirt,” Williamson said.
“We were looking for shell casings and we couldn’t find any. Things had been moved around. … The whole thing didn’t make sense,” he said.
Foutch had allegedly grabbed Pounds’ gun but the investigators were unable to find Foutch’s prints or DNA on the Glock 45 pistol. Pounds had already put the weapon back into his holster.
“We were very suspicious because of Yazel’s relationship with Brian Pounds,” Williamson said. “Why would you shoot somebody that’s bent over a deputy at a considerable distance? You could have killed him.”
Williamson said he told then-Undersheriff Brian Edwards that the evidence did not line up with the story Yazel and Pounds were telling. He said he retired shortly after that incident but sent a letter to Foutch and his attorney expressing his concerns about the case.
Yazel noted that a grand jury investigated the shooting and returned no indictments, declining to address specific points made by Williamson. He said after the shooting, he left the reserves for four or five years but returned.
A longtime friend of the sheriff’s, Yazel said he believes the controversy over Harris’ shooting has been damaging to the public.
“I think it’s unfair to the citizens to have all this go on and then lose confidence in the sheriff’s department. I think it’s best for the community to have faith and confidence in the sheriff’s department.”
A perfect target
Bates’ private statements and his actions on both videotapes don’t square with how he and the Sheriff’s Office described his role on the task force.
Bates told The Today Show in his first interview after the shooting that during undercover operations, “I do clean up when they’re done. I take notes. I take photographs. And that’s my job.”
In fact, records show Bates had stopped motorists, using his Taser on one of them, shot a dog and twice fired his pepper ball gun while on duty before pulling out his gun during the March raid on Eutimio’s mobile home.
An attorney for the Smolen, Smolen & Roytman law firm, representing Harris’ family in a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, said the video of Eutimio’s arrest “is alarming in several respects.”
“First, Bob Bates should never have been involved in this raid to begin with. Bates did not have the training to conduct any field operations. … Second, the video shows that Bates is overly-aggressive and incompetent. Bates approaches a naked, unarmed, handcuffed and helpless suspect in a dangerously unprofessional manner,” said the statement by attorney Bob Blakemore.
The video shows that three weeks before Harris was shot, Bates “seemed motivated to shoot an unarmed and subdued man,” Blakemore said.
“Bates should have immediately been relieved of his duties on the Violent Crimes Task Force. But as we all know, that did not happen. Glanz, Huckeby and Albin continued to allow their buddy to play cop. Eric died as a result.”
Harris’ brother, Andre, said he believes Bates should be held legally accountable for his brother’s death.
For Bates, Andre Harris said, his role as a reserve deputy was an opportunity to play “Dukes of Hazard” and drive around Tulsa County blaring lights and sirens, pulling people over while “suited and booted.”
“What is it to write up a couple of reports and go shovel horse manure at the fair during a horse show? That ain’t fun for no millionaire,” Andre Harris said. “Fun for this millionaire here, Mr. Robert Bates, is tasing people when they’re down, watching them flop around, accidentally shooting ’em … He wanted power, he wanted to be above the law.
“Who better for them to target than Eric Harris?”
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