The Oklahoma reserve deputy who fatally shot an unarmed man last year after saying he mistook his gun for his Taser was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison — the maximum penalty that was recommended by jurors.
Robert Bates, 74, was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter last month in the April 2, 2015, shooting of Eric Harris during a sting operation in Tulsa.
The shooting was captured on video and raised questions about training standards for volunteer deputies and favoritism in the department. It also became the latest policing incident scrutinized nationally for its racial implications because Harris was black and Bates is white.
Harris, 44, was caught on video taking part in an illegal gun sales operation. He ran from deputies, but was eventually restrained and shot by Bates, who yelled "Taser! Taser!" before discharging his firearm.
He then was heard saying, "I shot him. I'm sorry."
The shooting sparked several investigations. Among other things, a review found an internal memo questioning Bates' qualifications as a volunteer deputy and showed that Bates, a close friend of the sheriff's, had donated thousands of dollars in cash, vehicles and equipment to the sheriff's office.
Bates' defense attorneys argued at trial that methamphetamine found in Harris' system, along with his cardiac health, caused his death. They labeled the killing an "excusable homicide."
But prosecutors told jurors that Bates was guilty of culpable negligence when he shot Harris. One deputy testified that Bates apparently dozed off minutes before Harris fled from deputies.
Following the shooting, an outside consultant hired to review the sheriff's office determined that the agency suffered from a "system-wide failure of leadership and supervision" and had been in a "perceptible decline" for more than a decade. The reserve deputy program was later suspended.
Weeks after Harris was killed, an internal sheriff's office memo from 2009 was released by an attorney for Harris' family that alleged superiors knew Bates didn't have enough training but pressured others to look the other way because of his relationship with the sheriff and the agency.
A grand jury also investigated the agency and indicted the longtime sheriff, Stanley Glanz, in September, accusing him of failing to release the 2009 memo. He resigned on Nov. 1.
The new sheriff, who was sworn into office last month, has detailed plans to reform and revive the reserve deputy program.
Glanz was among dozens of people who wrote letters of support for Bates ahead of Tuesday's sentencing.
"This is a terrible injustice for a man that made a terrible mistake in a split second," Glanz wrote in the letter submitted to the court.
Days after the shooting, Bates told TODAY that it was the biggest regret of his life.