Apr 16, 2015 8:21 PM
Lawmaker seeks independent review of reserve deputy program
The Associated Press
TULSA, Okla. (AP) A state lawmaker called Thursday for an independent review of Tulsa's reserve deputy program as more questions arose about the training of a 73-year-old volunteer officer who says he accidentally shot a suspect to death while the man was being held down by others.
Some of those questions stemmed from a statement reserve deputy Robert Bates made about his past law enforcement experience and training in a report about the April 2 fatal shooting of Eric Harris.
Bates claimed on the form that he received training from Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on responding to active shooters. But Lisa Allen, a spokeswoman for the office, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Bates' name couldn't be found on a list of people who are allowed to participate in such training.
"The active shooter classes are only open to qualified armed posse people, and he isn't one of them," Allen said.
A message seeking comment on the training left with Bates' attorney, Clark Brewster, was not immediately returned late Thursday.
The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office said it would conduct an internal investigation of the shooting, but Rep. Mike Shelton fears a growing mistrust of police after a series of high-profile killings by law officers around the country.
"There are too many variables here for me and anyone else to believe that this investigation is going to be impartial," Shelton, a Democrat from Oklahoma City, said Thursday. "We simply cannot afford to have the public's trust in our law enforcement eroded any further. We need to remove the appearance of personal and political biases from this case."
Bates has said he mistakenly pulled out a handgun rather than a stun gun as Eric Harris lay on the ground after running from deputies conducting a sting operation. Video from the scene captured Bates apologizing for shooting Harris, who was being detained on suspicion that he tried to sell guns to an undercover officer.
"Oh, I shot him! I'm sorry," said Bates, who has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
Sheriff's spokesman Maj. Shannon Clark said Harris' death prompted an evaluation of the reserve deputy system.
"As with any critical incident, we are doing an internal review of our program and policy to determine if any changes need to take place," Clark said.
But Shelton suggested that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the state attorney general's office should step in to help assure Harris' family and the public that any probe is unbiased.
Bates, an insurance executive, has been a volunteer reserve deputy since 2007 or 2008 and served as Sheriff Stanley Glanz's re-election campaign manager in 2012. He has also been a generous donor, giving cars and equipment to the sheriff's office.
Harris' family has questioned whether Bates was sufficiently trained. Glanz has said the department cannot locate some of Bates' certification records, and the Tulsa World reported Wednesday that sheriff's office supervisors who refused to fudge Bates' paperwork were transferred to other jobs. The newspaper cited sources that it did not identify, and it did not say when the transfers occurred.
In a video interview posted on the newspaper's website, Tulsa World reporters said their sources told them that Bates did not perform well enough at a shooting range to be certified as a law officer but that supervisors were told to approve his performance anyway.
According to the newspaper, the supervisors were told to give Bates credit for field training he never took and firearms certifications for which he was not eligible.
The World said at least three of Bates' supervisors were transferred for refusing to go along with the requests. The newspaper said it consulted multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, but it gave no indication how those sources were familiar with the situation.
Brewster disputed the newspaper's report but declined to comment further.
The sheriff's office did not respond to repeated phone calls and messages left on Thursday.
Dan Smolen, an attorney for the shooting victim's family, said he believes the newspaper's report is accurate.
"I'm absolutely convinced through almost 10 years of work that I've litigated on these cases that they routinely falsify records," Smolen said. "I think through our investigation it will ultimately come to light that Mr. Bates had little to no field training prior to his appointment to the Violent Crimes Task Force in 2008."
In a statement after the shooting, Bates said he was certified as an advanced reserve deputy in 2007. The sheriff's office said Bates joined in 2008.
The Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training confirmed that Bates is a certified officer but is prohibited from releasing his training records, according to James Wilson, the agency's general counsel.
The newspaper reported that Glanz, the sheriff, told a Tulsa radio station that Bates had been certified to use three weapons, including the gun he fired at Harris. However, Glanz said his office has not been able to find the paperwork on those certifications and that the deputy who prepared the paperwork now works for the Secret Service.
"We can't find the records that she supposedly turned in," Glanz said. "So we are going to talk to her to find out if for sure he's been qualified with those" weapons.
Criticism of the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office continued to mount with calls for an independent investigation and Glanz's resignation by the head of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Oklahoma ACLU Executive Director Ryan Kiesel said in a statement that between Harris' death and treatment as he lay dying to the allegations of falsified records, "enough is enough."
Associated Press writers Justin Juozapavicius in Tulsa and Allen Reed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.