Manslaughter trial begins for ex-deputy who said he thought gun was a Taser

Posted at 3:01 PM, Apr 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-20 17:01:54-04

By Christopher Lett and Holly Yan


(CNN) — An Oklahoma jury starts deciding this week whether an ex-sheriff’s deputy should go to prison for shooting a man in the back.

Robert Bates, a former volunteer deputy for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, never denied killing Eric Courtney Harris last year. But he said he meant to use his Taser stun gun, not his revolver.

The jury began hearing opening statements in the second-degree manslaughter trial Wednesday. If convicted, Bates could face up to four years in prison.

‘Oh! I shot him. I’m sorry!’

On April 2, 2015, an undercover deputy was conducting a sting operation to try to catch Harris illegally selling a gun.

Bates, 73, was parked several blocks away. He told NBC’s “Today Show” he had participated in several hundred sting operations but always in a backup role, where he would “clean up” after deputies and take photos and notes after they had made an arrest.

But officials said as deputies rolled up to arrest Harris that day, the suspect bolted and ran toward Bates. A tussle ensued. Bates fires his gun into Harris’ back.

‘Oh! I shot him! I’m sorry!” Bates said, as captured in a video of the shooting. Click here for that footage. 

His defense attorney, Clark Brewster, said experts will testify about the effects of the stress Bates was under as he made the mistake of drawing his gun and not his Taser that day.

Fallout at the Sheriff’s Office

Shortly after the shooting, critics questioned Bates’ qualifications as a volunteer deputy — and wondered whether his close personal friendship with then-Sheriff Stanley Glanz helped get him preferential treatment.

At the time of the shooting, Bates was a CEO of an insurance company who volunteered as a sheriff’s deputy.

An internal inquiry by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office in 2009 found that Bates was shown special treatment and that training policies were violated during his time there.

A grand jury indicted the sheriff in September on two misdemeanor charges, including one saying Glanz “denied lawful requests for the release of internal investigations into his office’s Reserve Deputy program.”

After almost 30 years as Tulsa County’s sheriff, Glanz resigned.

CNN’s Shawn Nottingham contributed to this report.

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