TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Video released by investigators that shows an undercover sheriff’s deputy allegedly buying drugs from a man later killed by a volunteer officer amounts to “character assassination,” a civil rights advocate said Wednesday.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office released several video clips Tuesday that show a man allegedly selling drugs and talking about selling a gun to an undercover deputy. The agency said the video was taken over three days in late March.
The sheriff’s office identified the man as Eric Harris, who was fatally shot by volunteer deputy Robert Bates during a sting investigation on April 2. Bates, a 73-year-old former insurance executive, has said he confused his handgun with a stun gun, and has pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter in Harris’ death.
Since the shooting, questions have arisen about whether Bates was property trained and qualified. In response to a CBS News report Wednesday that the Tulsa Sheriff’s Office conducted a 2009 investigation into Bates’ performance, a spokesman for the office confirmed that an “internal review” was done.
Maj. Shannon Clark told The Associated Press that a former undersheriff in the department had ordered the review of Bates, “but it was never classified as an investigation and there was no further action that we can determine.” Clark said he believed the review was conducted in 2009, but said he had no other information.
CBS News reported, without citing any sources, that an internal investigation found that Bates received special treatment during training and while working as a reserve deputy.
In a statement to AP, attorneys for the Harris family reiterated their accusation that Bates was not properly trained and allowed to work as a reserve deputy only because of his close ties to the sheriff’s office. “It is our belief that Eric Harris would be alive today if TSO had not cut corners and broken the rules to put a crony out on the streets,” the statement said.
Bates was the longtime insurance agent for Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, had made a number of donations to the agency and was Glanz’s campaign manager during the 2012 election.
In response to the release of the new video, Marq Lewis, an organizer with We The People Oklahoma who has led rallies and marches since the shooting, said investigators are intentionally trying to show Harris in a bad light.
“We see this happening all the time. There is a slander of character,” Lewis told the AP on Wednesday. “Character assassination does not replace the fact that Mr. Harris is deceased. Because he was committing a crime and they recorded it doesn’t give them reasoning that it’s OK for him to die.”
Former Ferguson, Missouri, Police Chief Thomas Jackson drew similar criticisms after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Jackson released the name of the officer who shot Brown at the same time as store security video that police said showed Brown stealing a box of cigars and shoving a clerk only a short time before his death.
A Tulsa County sheriff’s spokesman wouldn’t comment on why the videos were released. Attorneys representing Harris’ family also declined to comment on the video through a spokeswoman.
The video clips include about 15 minutes of footage, showing the man identified as Harris and the undercover deputy negotiating alleged drug deals. In one, Harris looks around as the undercover deputy asks if they can do a drug deal in the back seat of a car. They instead agree to meet up at a gas station 30 minutes later.
In another clip, Harris can be heard vouching for the potency and amount of drugs being sold to the undercover deputy. After that transaction, while the undercover deputy is driving Harris back to an apartment complex, Harris offers to sell the deputy a gun, telling him it’s worth $700 but he would sell it for $300. They arrange to meet later that afternoon.
The clips mark the second time investigators have released video in the case. The first video, released shortly after Harris’ death at the request of his family, was recorded by a deputy with a sunglass camera. The video shows a deputy chase and tackle Harris; a gunshot rings out as a deputy subdues Harris.