It has been a little more than a week since Justin Green, the public information officer for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, told me the results of an audit of the agency’s reserve deputy files.
I felt like this request was important. As most of you know, earlier this year a reserve deputy named Robert Bates — a longtime friend of Sheriff Stanley Glanz and a man who had donated money, time, vehicles and equipment to the sheriff’s office — shot and killed an unarmed man during an undercover operation.
That incident put a lot of eyes, both locally and nationally, on not only the sheriff’s office but the reserve deputy program in particular. (It should be noted that Glanz apparently doesn’t think all the attention is necessary.)
The sheriff’s office says the reserve deputy program saves the county thousands of dollars by providing free labor. For instance, dozens of reserves patrol Expo Square during every hour of the Tulsa State Fair each year. Sometimes they break up drunken scuffles on the fair grounds, other times they ride in a golf cart with a pink pig attached to its roof, handing out stickers.
But that’s not all they do. A Frontier investigation earlier this year found that reserve deputies had pulled their weapons at least 50 times in the last five years.
After the Harris shooting, the sheriff’s office was deluged with questions. How was Bates, then 73, on the agency’s Violent Crimes Task Force, a rather prestigious assignment? Did the donations have anything to do with it? What about his relationship with Glanz?
Then the most serious question was raised: Was he even trained?
Despite the denials of Bates and his legal team, an internal affairs document from 2009 leaked to The Frontier and other news organizations supports the claim that the longtime insurance executive received preferential treatment on his way through the reserve deputy program.
Numerous superiors raised concerns not only about the training they believed Bates had not received, but also his actions in the field. (As an advanced reserve deputy, the highest classification, Bates was allowed to act autonomously and could make traffic stops or arrests without a superior present.)
Green was open with me: 50 of the slightly more than 100 reserve deputies had files that were deficient in some way. That sounds like an alarming number, so I did what any reporter would do: I asked for the specific deficiencies.
More than a week later, we still don’t know what the deficiencies were. When I asked, I was only given a brief description — Green said they were mostly things like “missing copies of updated driver’s licenses or photos to missing copies of training certificates.” The specific results of the audit were internal, Green said, and would not be released.
Meredith Baker, legal counsel for TCSO, said it might be possible to list the reserve deputies who had a deficiency, but that the sheriff’s office will “decline to provide other documents.”
It appears we’re at a standstill. Will we ever know what the deficiencies were? Unless the sheriff’s office reverses course, it would take a legal fight.
In months following the Bates shooting, the sheriff’s office was consistently inconsistent with their statements to the media. Can we take the sheriff’s office at its word that the deficiencies were minor? I’d argue that we shouldn’t have to; that’s the point of transparency.
Following training that took place earlier this month, Green said all but three reserve deputies — Jerry Biggs, Jason Crutchfield and Chris King — had corrected their files. Biggs, Crutchfield and King were asked to resign. That 47 of the 50 reserves were able to rectify their files seems to support Green’s statement that the deficiencies were minor. But we have to take Green’s word on that, for now.
When Eric Harris was shot, the sheriff’s office said the video evidence showed the shooting was accidental, but declined to release the video. Harris’ family argued that if the video proved what TCSO said it proved, all they had to do was release it. It was eventually released, and the video supported that it was an accidental shooting.
(However the end of the video was missing, due to what sheriff’s officials said was a failed battery.)
Likewise, if the deficiencies in the reserve deputy audit truly are minor transgressions, let us see.
Another thing worth noting: Would the audit, had it been done six months ago, have flagged Bates’ file? His full training records have still never been released. The sheriff’s office said they were either in a box buried in the basement, or had possibly never been kept at all. To date, we’ve only seen bits and pieces.
If 47 of the 50 deficient reserve deputies were able to reconcile their files so easily, why have we never seen Bates’ documents?
It’s possible we will never know.