If the official statement was to be believed, a deputy-involved shooting of a suspect in Tulsa during an altercation with police earlier this month was hardly unusual.
“As the suspect continued to struggle with Deputies, the Reserve Deputy discharged his firearm striking the suspect,” a news release from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office states. “The suspect was treated at the scene by EMSA ambulance and has been transported to an area hospital.”
Notably absent from officials’ original account, however, was the fact that the suspect — a 44-year-old unarmed black man named Eric Harris — died of his wounds shortly thereafter and that the man who shot him — a 73-year-old white reserve deputy named Robert Bates — claims he never even intended to pull out his gun in the first place.
What did he intend to do?
Two days after the April 2 shooting, Bates told the Tulsa World that he thought he was holding a Taser the moment he discharged his weapon.
“I shot him!” he can be heard saying in video footage of the incident released Friday, nine days after the shooting. “I’m sorry.”
Moments later, the video reveals, Harris realizes he’s been shot.
“He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my god. I’m losing my breath,” a panicked Harris yells as an officer places his knee on the bleeding man’s head.
“F— your breath,” a callous officer can be heard saying. “Shut the f— up!”
Instead of tending to the gunshot wound, a second deputy yells at Harris.
“You shouldn’t have f—–g ran!” the man screams.
Despite the sound of a gun firing, Bates’s verbal admission and blood appearing on Harris’s shirt and arm, Sheriff’s Capt. Billy McKelvey told the New York Daily News that the arresting officers were unaware that a shooting had occurred.
He said paramedics and firefighters were called as soon as the officers realized that their suspect had, in fact, been shot.
Authorities said Harris — a convicted felon who had served time for assault and battery of an officer — was pronounced dead about an hour after he was shot, according to the Daily News.
Before he was shot, authorities said, Harris had fled from officers who were attempting to arrest him for selling a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol and 300 rounds of ammunition.
According to Tulsa World, the attempted arrest was the latest incident in Harris’s long criminal history, which stretches back several decades:
Court records show that six criminal felony cases and one misdemeanor case were filed against Harris in Tulsa County District Court over a 10-year span. His convictions include making threatening telephone calls and escaping from a penal institution in 1990, as well as robbery with a dangerous weapon in 1999. He also was found guilty of forging a document and two counts of larceny, records show.
Bates, a Tulsa insurance company executive, was working undercover as a member of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office Violent Crimes Task Force, according to Tulsa World.
He had received specialized training in “homicide investigation, meth lab identification and decontamination,” according to Tulsa World.
“He made an inadvertent mistake,” McKelvey said, referring to Bates’s decision.