A video of a police sting in Tulsa has gone viral. The video shows police chasing a man suspected of trying to illegally sell a gun. A reserve deputy tries to taser the suspect, but instead draws his handgun and fatally shoots the suspect, Eric Harris, who later died of his wounds at a hospital.
Reserve deputy Robert Bates is heard on the video saying, “Oh, I shot him. I’m sorry.”
Harris says, “He shot me…Oh, my god. I’m losing my breath.”
A different cop positioned on top of Harris says, “Fuck your breath,” just before the video ends.
This video highlights two problems. The first is police brutality, shown when a cop places his knee on the dying suspect’s head and says “Fuck your breath.”
The second issue is that a handgun was fired instead of a taser. It’s important to remember these actions were perpetrated by different men.
Reserve deputy Bates shot Harris in what some are considering a “slip-and-capture” error.
“Slip and capture … is when a person intends to do one thing but instead does another in a high-stress situation,” according to Sgt. Jim Clark of the Tulsa Police Department.
Dr. Bill Lewinski is the executive director of the Force Science Institute. Lewinski testified in a similar case on how stress and inadequate training are the most likely contributors when an officer accidentally used his sidearm instead of his taser when attempting to restrain a suspect who was resisting arrest.
When a firearm is mistakenly drawn instead of a taser, this “is a classic illustration of powerful forces beyond an officer’s conscious awareness that can shape a threatening encounter.”
Even if proven to be an accident, this incident has brought up questions of why a rich donor was allowed to take part in a sting while armed with his own gun.
The phrase “pay to play” has cropped up. However, as a reserve deputy Bates was required to have 480 hours of field officer training, 320 hours of training provided by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training and an additional 40 hours of service every six months.
Questions have come up about whether Bates actually received the mandated training, suggesting that closer attention needs to be given to the training of reserve deputies.
The idea of reserve deputies is not rare. Reserve deputies are often utilized by police departments that cannot afford to hire new officers because of budget cuts.
There are many ways police departments can work to make sure accidents like this don’t happen in the future. More training and not allowing reserve deputies to carry weapons is a place to start.
While the accidental shooting of Harris is tragic, the video also shows a cop—not Bates—saying to Harris, “Fuck your breath.”
Bates made a mistake, and immediately apologized for it. The second, unnamed cop, pinned a dying suspect’s head to the ground and told him, “Fuck your breath.”
Such brutality was neither necessary nor acceptable. Unfortunately, being an asshole is not illegal.
Still, it is my hope that someone higher up in the Tulsa police department takes steps to show officers that such conduct will not be tolerated.