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The Oklahoma reserve sheriff’s deputy who says he mistook his gun for a Taser offered an apology on Friday to the family of the unarmed man he shot and killed last week.
"I rate this as No. 1 on my list of things in my life that I regret," the reserve deputy, Robert Bates, told TODAY in his first public remarks since the deadly encounter April 2.
Bates has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Eric Harris, who bolted from a car after he allegedly tried to sell a semiautomatic pistol to an undercover cop during a sting operation in Tulsa.
In a video of the encounter, Bates can be heard shouting, “Taser! Taser!” and later saying, “I shot him! I’m sorry!”
Bates, an insurance executive who volunteered with the sheriff’s department, demonstrated on TODAY that he kept the two weapons in different places — the Taser tucked into his protective vest, the gun on his side. But he said: “You must believe me. This can happen to anyone.”
He said that when he heard the shot that he fired, he thought, “Oh, my God, what has happened?”
"The laser light is the same on each weapon,” he said. “I saw the light and I squeezed the trigger and then realized I dropped the gun. This was not an intentional thing, I had no desire to ever take anyone’s life."
Harris' family released a statement Friday, saying: "We appreciate Bob Bates' apology for shooting and killing Eric. Unfortunately, Mr. Bates' apology will not bring Eric back."
"With each passing day, as the facts continue to unfold, we have become increasingly disturbed by Mr. Bates' actions on Apil 2, 2015, as well as the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office's acts and omissions, both before and after the shooting," the family said. "We remain vigilant in seeking the truth and in our pursuit of justice."
Bates said that he has lost sleep and been unable to concentrate since it happened.
Bates rejected as “unbelievably unfair” the suggestion that he has been allowed to be a reserve deputy and "play cop" because he has donated generously to the sheriff’s department and is a personal friend of the sheriff.
The Tulsa World reported on Thursday that Bates was given credit for field training he never completed and firearms certifications he never received. Sheriff’s officials have dismissed it as rumor, and Bates denied it on Friday.
"That is not correct," he said. "That is absolutely the truth. I have it in writing."