The Tulsa reserve sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed an unarmed man earlier this month was probed in 2009 for uncompleted training and allegations he was using his personal vehicle to conduct traffic stops, NBC News has learned.
Robert Bates, a 73-year-old retired insurance executive volunteering with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, was charged with manslaughter in the April 2 death of Eric Harris. Bates claimed he thought he grabbed his Taser but actually grabbed his handgun and shot Harris after Harris ran from officers. Bates has pleaded not guilty.
An internal review was launched in 2009 regarding Bates not completing training and his on-duty behavior, a source with knowledge of the investigation told NBC News. A sheriff’s deputy interviewed after the fatal shooting told investigators Bates used his personal vehicle to conduct unauthorized vehicle stops, the source said.
The review concluded Bates received special treatment, the source said.
"The public's entitled to know the truth. The Harris family is entitled to know the truth," Bob Blakemore, an attorney for the Harris family, said. "They need to be transparent."
Questions have been raised as to Bates’ training and why the retiree was allowed to provide backup during the sting operation that ended in Harris’ death. Sheriff’s Maj. Shannon Clark said there was a 2009 internal review, but no action was taken.
Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz has said Bates was qualified, but the department was having trouble finding all the training records. Bates told TODAY that accusations he wasn’t properly trained and was allowed to "play cop" are "unbelievably unfair."
Bates' attorney said Thursday he has not seen an investigation report, but said that the sheriff’s office has previously acknowledged the 2009 review.
"In the six years since 2009, Mr. Bates has received hundreds of hours of training and experience in the field," attorney Clark Brewster said. "No one involved in the Harris operation has raised any concern that Mr. Bates was unqualified or undertrained for the containment position he was assigned."
The Tulsa World reported on April 16 that Bates was given credit for field training he never completed and firearms certifications he never received. The sheriff's office said the report relied on "unconfirmed sources" and said it would not respond to what it called "rumor."
The sheriff described Bates as a friend of about 25 years who had served as his insurance agent. He said that they had vacationed together once in the Bahamas. A judge on Tuesday allowed Bates to take a previously scheduled trip to the Bahamas.
During the deadly encounter, Bates can be heard on video shouting "Taser! Taser!" and, after the gunshot, says "I shot him! I’m sorry!"
Asked this week whether Bates should have been on the street providing backup the day Harris was killed, Glanz replied, "Yes, he should have been."
The judge overseeing Bates’ criminal case on Wednesday acknowledged potential conflicts of interest in a court filing. District Judge James M. Caputo, a Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy for six years in the ’90s, said he has known Glanz for 23 years but has not had any professional or personal dealings with Bates.
He said in the document that "I took an oath to be fair and impartial and I have been true to that oath since serving in the capacity of district judge." A preliminary hearing in Bates’ case is scheduled for July 2, according to court records.
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