Did a Tragedy Happen Because of a Pretend Cop?

Many (including Conservatives) are saying a deputy accidentally killed a suspect because he was a pretend cop, but that is a distraction.

It happened on April 2, but the video was just released:

According to the New York Daily News,

The botched encounter was captured on a disturbing video released by police on Friday — nine days after the fatal Tulsa shooting.

“He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my god. I’m losing my breath,” Eric Harris says as he struggles on the ground following the April 2 shooting, which flew under the radar until video emerged a week later.

“F— your breath,” a callous officer can be heard saying. “Shut the f— up!”

Pretty grim words to a man who was dying—who was dead within an hour of hearing them.

Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, 73, shouted “Taser! Taser!” before pulling the trigger on his gun, firing a round into Harris.

“I shot him!” the former policeman says, dropping his gun. “I’m sorry.”

Bates was assisting other deputies who were trying to take Harris into custody after the felon fled from police during a sting operation, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office’s said.

“You shouldn’t have f—–g ran!” another deputy screams, as Harris is held down by his neck and head.

Harris, who was in his 40s, was pronounced dead about an hour after the shooting, authorities said.

He had bolted from officers who were trying to arrest him for selling a 9 mm. semiautomatic pistol and ammunition to undercover cops.

Harris, who was unarmed, had reportedly done time for assault and battery on an officer.

He was “absolutely a threat when going down,” Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark said at a news conference.

Sheriff’s Capt. Billy McKelvey claims the arresting officers were not aware Harris had been shot, despite the gunshot noise and Bates’ admission.

In my opinion, the best way to decide about this case is to ask if the police have any obligations or special allowances when they accidentally draw the wrong tool and thus cause a person’s death. I notice that insisting that Harris was a threat seems like it could justify drawing one’s firearm. But since we know that Bates says he meant to draw his Taser, it appears he did not believe the situation warranted a firearm.

[See also, “Without Video, Killing Walter Scott would never Be Punished.”]

But many people are making the case hinge on the special status of Bates. Here is the Daily Caller for example:

Making the video far more appalling, however, are the details about the officer doing the shooting: 73-year-old Robert Bates, who it turns out isn’t even a real police officer.

On workdays, Bates goes to his job insurance executive. However, after donating thousands of dollars to Tulsa’s police department over the years, he was allowed on his off days to serve as a volunteer reserve sheriff’s deputy, allowed to accompany officers in the Violent Crimes Task Force while they went on patrols. Bates’s only work experience in law enforcement is one year as a full-time police officer 50 years ago.

According to the Tulsa World, Bates had been serving as a reserve deputy for several years, as he was named the department’s deputy of the year in 2011. Reserve deputies are a major component of the Tulsa sheriff’s office, with more than 100 being used in the past year. The office told the World that reserve deputies receive all the training given to full deputies, totaling hundreds of hours, though they acknowledge they also have an “abbreviated curriculum.” That training means that reserve deputies, while not full police officers, possess all the same power and authority when on-duty.

Trained or not, however, Bates’s armed presence on the streets at the age of 73 would be very unusual for regular police, many of whom are retired by their 50s, or at least shifted to desk jobs.

Maybe there is something to that. But the bottom line is that, if a “full” police officer had made the mistake, the suspect would be just as dead and the courts (hopefully) would have to figure out what to do about it. The reserve deputy system seems like it is being used as a scapegoat. But what we need is some idea of what does and does not count as involuntary manslaughter for a law enforcement officer while performing his duties. The question we should be asking is “What must be done to preserve reasonable accountability?” Assuming this situation could never possibly arise except from “pretend” deputies is a mistake.