Days after an Oklahoma reserve deputy sheriff was charged with manslaughter for a fatal incident in which he mistook his gun for a Taser, a report in the Tulsa World has called into question whether he should have been carrying a gun in the first place.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, individuals told the World that supervisors in the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office were ordered to falsify training records for Robert Bates, the 73-year-old insurance executive who fired his gun instead of a Taser, killing an unarmed black man, apparently by accident. The false records gave Bates credit for field training he never took and firearms certifications he should not have received, the World reported.
The Tulsa paper added that at least three of Bates’s supervisors were transferred after refusing to sign off on the state-required training.
Bates was certified as a “reserve deputy” — a volunteer position that requires applicants to undergo a mental capacity test and obtain certification from Oklahoma’s Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, local ABC affiliate KJRH reported. Reserve deputies must also re-qualify with a weapon each year.
Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz told KJRH that Bates had qualified for three weapons with the supervision of a firearms instructor, but the office was not able to find records from the qualification test. The instructor who trained Bates has since left the Tulsa Sheriff’s Office.
“And we’re trying to get hold of her and talk to her but we can’t find the records that she supposedly turned in. So, we’re going to talk to her find out if, for sure, he did qualify with those,” Glanz said.
Since Bates is an “advanced” reserve, he had to have undergone 480 hours of the “field training officer” program to maintain his certification.
Advanced reserves are allowed to “perform normal field duties by themselves and without the direct supervision of a certified deputy,” according to the Tulsa World.
Undersheriff Tim Albin, responding to earlier questions about Bates’s certifications, told the World the reserve deputy’s training record “speaks for itself.”
“I have absolutely no knowledge of what you are talking about,” Albin said when asked whether the records had been falsified and supervisors transferred for refusing to approve them. “There aren’t any secrets in law enforcement. Zero. Those types of issues would have come up.”
Volunteer reserve deputies are a staple of the Tulsa sheriff’s department, where the professional force is supplemented by about 100 volunteers. Bates, who worked for a year as a police officer from 1964-65, joined the department as a reserve in 2008.
In 2012, Bates chaired the Re-Elect Sheriff Glanz Committee and donated $2,500 to Glanz’s campaign, the World reported. He has also purchased five vehicles and other equipment for the Tulsa Sheriff’s Violent Crimes Task Force, of which Bates was a member.
In a seven page statement to investigators obtained by the Tulsa World Wednesday, Bates said he had contacted a task force member on April 1 to ask if there was an operation with which he could assist. The reserve deputy was assigned to the April 2 undercover operation during which Bates accidentally shot and killed the suspect, 44-year-old Eric Harris.
A lawyer for Harris’s family has also expressed doubt about the accuracy of Bates’s records.
“There is absolutely no way, if Mr. Bates had been trained at all … an officer who is trained would never get these two weapons confused,” attorney Dan Smollen said at a Monday news conference.