This story initially misidentified who was the subject of an undercover gun and ammunition buy. The story has been corrected.
Robert Bates, the reserve Tulsa County deputy who fatally shot a man who was in a physical altercation with another deputy last week, has donated thousands of dollars worth of items to the Sheriff’s Office since becoming a reserve deputy in 2008.
Bates, 73, accidentally shot Eric Harris on Thursday, according to Maj. Shannon Clark, after Harris — the subject of an undercover gun and ammunition buy by the Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes Task Force — fled from arrest and then fought with a deputy who tackled him. Bates, Clark said, thought he was holding a stun gun when he pulled the trigger.
Bates is not an active member of the task force but donates his hours there as a highly regarded member of the Reserve Deputy Program, Clark said.
Harris, 44, an ex-convict with an extensive criminal history, was shot in the right axilla, the area under the joint that connects the arm to the shoulder, according to the state Medical Examiner’s Office. Clark said Harris, who died at a Tulsa hospital after the shooting, told a deputy at the scene that he had taken PCP earlier in the morning.
Bates apparently is not alone as both a donor and reserve deputy. While the Sheriff’s Office has not released its full roster, Clark said other wealthy donors are among the agency’s 130 reserve deputies.
“There are lots of wealthy people in the reserve program,” he said. “Many of them make donations of items. That’s not unusual at all.”
Bates has donated multiple vehicles, guns and stun guns to the Sheriff’s Office since he became a reserve deputy in 2008, Clark said. The Sheriff’s Office did not have an itemized list of donations made by Bates available Monday and deferred that question to the county commissioners’ office, which tracks those items.
The shooting, which a Sheriff’s Office press release says happened after a brief foot pursuit in the 2000 block of North Harvard Avenue, was recorded via two “sunglass cameras,” Clark said. He could not confirm whether those sunglass cameras were purchased by Bates, but a source told the Tulsa World that Bates had recently purchased them for the Violent Crimes Task Force.
According to the Sheriff’s Office’s “Use of Force” policy, deputies are authorized to use deadly force to:
• Protect themselves or others when the deputy has reason to believe there is immediate danger of death of serious bodily harm;
• Prevent the escape of a fleeing felon when the deputy has probable cause to believe both that the person has committed a felony involving the action or threat of serious physical injury or death and that the subject’s escape would pose an imminent danger of death or serious physical harm to deputies and others.
First Assistant District Attorney John David Luton said Monday that the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office had not received the case from the Sheriff’s Office but would seek to “move quickly” on a decision on possible charges against the reserve deputy once presented with the case.
Before Bates was a reserve deputy, he served one year — from 1964 to 1965 — as a police officer, according to Tulsa police.
According to the Sheriff’s Office’s Reserve Deputy Program policy manual, reserves — who Clark said are not compensated financially for any hours they work — are separated into three categories: basic, intermediate and advanced.
Bates, Clark said, is classified as an “advanced reserve,” which means he “can do anything a full-time deputy can do.” Though Bates’ assignment to the Violent Crimes Task Force was not unusual, Clark said, the insurance company executive would have been assigned to the undercover operation in a support role.
“Although he had training and experience for the arrest team, he’s not assigned to the arrest team,” Clark said of Bates’ role on the task force. “He came to render aid during the altercation, but he’s in a support role during the operation. That means keeping notes, doing counter-surveillance, things like that.”
According to Reserve Deputy Program policy, to be classified as “advanced,” you must have 320 hours of training with CLEET (the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training) as well as have completed 480 hours of the TCSO Field Training Officer Program.
At that point, the policy states, reserve deputies can “perform normal field duties by themselves and without the direct supervision of a certified deputy.”
CLEET paralegal Catherine Streeter said Bates was actively certified with the organization, but she could not release documents stating when he received his training.
Advanced reserve deputies “must complete 40 hours of service every six months” to maintain certification, the policy states.
The Tulsa Police Department, by comparison, has “about 55” reserve officers, Officer Leland Ashley said. TPD reserves typically work traffic control or events such as parking lot patrols during “Safe Shopper” operations in heavy shopping seasons, he said.
Ashley said the only time Chief Chuck Jordan remembers reserve officers being used on a task force was during last summer’s hunt for a serial rapist.
Other than that task force, in which reserve officers sat in marked patrol cars in hopes of deterring the rapist from attacking again, Ashley said TPD reserves “aren’t utilized in task forces or undercover operations.”
Dylan Goforth 918-581-8451