April 13, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY – In the wake of newly released video showing Robert Bates, a wealthy donor to Tulsa Sheriff Stanley Glanz and volunteer reserve deputy, killing unarmed Eric Harris by shooting him in the back while Mr. Harris was being restrained on the ground, the ACLU of Oklahoma has issued the following statement calling for end to “buy a badge” practices that allow favored friends and wealthy donors to Oklahoma sheriffs to carry guns and badges as reserve deputies, often with far less training and experience than professional law enforcement officers.

The following is attributable to Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director:

Eric Harris is dead today as the result of an utterly reckless program that allows donors to buy a badge and play police officer with real guns and real bullets. Oklahomans deserve police departments that are staffed by professionals and who are financed with our tax dollars and held accountable to the public. If someone wants to volunteer to help their fellow citizens cross the street during special events like the State Fair, we have no objection, but to give volunteers weapons and put them in situations like the one that ended the life of Eric Harris is dangerous and foolish. The ACLU of Oklahoma is calling for an immediate end to the all “Buy a Badge” programs across Oklahoma, including the programs in Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties and insists that all law enforcement volunteers have greater limits imposed on their service.

In addition to the disastrous results of the reckless Buy a Badge program, the video that recorded the arrest and shooting of Mr. Harris also exposed the callous and dehumanizing approach of at least one Tulsa County law enforcement officer. That officer responded to Mr. Harris’s inability to catch his breath after being shot in the back, by saying “Fuck your breath.” This officer’s response is disgusting and he has no business serving the people of Tulsa County. We call on the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office to discipline this officer and demonstrate this barbaric attitude will not be tolerated.

The following is attributable to Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director:

Eric Harris is now dead and volunteer deputy Bob Bates charged with manslaughter. Both of these things never had to happen. The reckless killing committed by Reserve Deputy Bates was not just due to his own careless choice when handling a deadly weapon, but to the carelessness of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office in placing Bates in an extremely dangerous situation for which clearly he was not prepared. While the charge of manslaughter against Mr. Bates provides some hope that justice will be served, what matters now is not just punishing this killing, but preventing the next one.  To do that, Oklahoma sheriff’s departments need to rethink the dangerous “pay to play cop” practice that places friends and campaign donors into law enforcement roles that require the consistent professionalism and proficiency of properly trained professional officers.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Oklahoma also need to reassess the costs and consequences of overuse of force on citizens. The video of Harris’s killing not only shows a manslaughter, it raises another question: When Harris was already being held on the ground and no longer fleeing deputies, why was it necessary to launch metal hooks carrying 50,000 volts into his body? If Bob Bates had reached for his taser instead of his gun, he might not have committed a manslaughter, but his use of force likely would not have been reasonable, rational, or legal. What happened to Eric Harris was not just “a mistake,” it was the result of a series of choices that show a reckless disregard for human dignity and human life.
 

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