Police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have released a graphic video that depicts the moments before and after Eric Harris, 44, an apparently unarmed African-American man, was fatally shot April 2 by Robert Bates, 73, a white Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy who seemingly mistook his own gun for his Taser.
In the video, a frantic chase on foot concludes with police tackling Harris and ordering him to lie facedown. A Taser is called for, and seconds later a gunshot can be heard. “Oh, I shot him! I’m sorry,” Bates says.
“He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my god. I’m losing my breath,” Harris says in the video, as a police officer kneels on his head.
“F--- your breath,” a police officer responds.
Captured on an officer’s body camera, the dramatic scene brings new attention to the shooting, which came after a sting targeted at allegedly illegal weapons dealing. Harris died at a local hospital about an hour following the incident.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office announced the day of the shooting that Harris was shot “inadvertently” amid a “rapidly evolving altercation.” It indicated his left arm had been around his waistband while he was pinned on the ground, leading officers to fear he had a weapon.
The video does not make this part of Harris’ body clear. No weapon was recovered from the scene.
Harris, an ex-convict, admitted he had taken the drug PCP the day of his death, according to a police statement.
With a so-called advanced-reserve designation, Bates, the reserve deputy who shot Harris, was authorized to do “anything a full-time deputy can do,” Maj. Shannon Clark of the sheriff’s office told the Tulsa World, although he said that Bates would normally not have participated actively in an arrest.
Bates, who had served as a Tulsa policeman in the mid-1960s, has made numerous donations of vehicles and weapons to the sheriff’s office since becoming a reserve deputy in 2008.
When Clark was asked whether Bates’ advanced age contributed to the fatal mix-up, the local television station KTUL-TV quoted him as replying: “Did an accident happen? Sure. But is it accredited to his age? Or was it accredited to the rapidly evolving situation? I guess that will be determined in the investigation.”
The shooting is reminiscent of a 2009 incident involving Oscar Grant III in Oakland, California. A Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer shot and killed Grant, 22, with the officer apparently believing he was using his Taser instead of his gun. Johannes Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter criminal case over the shooting, but was acquitted on the charge of murder in 2010. He served a year in prison and was released in 2011. A court ruled in favor of Mehserle in a civil lawsuit brought by Grant’s family in 2014. The family had previously settled separate suits with BART over the killing.