TULSA (CN) – The estate of the black man killed by a white Tulsa County sheriff’s volunteer deputy who confused his gun with his Taser has joined a federal lawsuit against the sheriff.
The estate of Eric Courtney Harris on Sunday joined a lawsuit filed by Scott W. Birdwell in May. Birdwell claims he was assaulted by another inmate in the Tulsa County Jail last year and was denied adequate medical care.
Harris, 44, was killed on April 2 by reserve deputy Robert C. Bates, 73, after Harris was chased down a street by several deputies and held on the ground. Bates fired a single gunshot and immediately apologized as Harris screamed that he had been shot, according to a deputy’s body camera video .
Bates, an insurance agent, was charged with second-degree manslaughter involving culpable negligence. If convicted, he faces up to four years in state prison.
“In essence, Bob Bates was not adequately trained, [Tulsa County] Sheriff [Stanley] Glanz/TCSO acted to cover this up, and Sheriff Glanz/TCSO knowingly and dangerously allowed an undertrained and underqualified 73-year old insurance executive to play cop,” the 56-page amended complaint states. “Eric Harris died as a result.”
The plaintiffs say they were killed or injured “as a result of inadequate and unconstitutional training and supervision fostered” by Glanz.
They claim the sheriff’s judgment “is badly clouded” by his “unchecked cronyism” that harms inmates and the public.
“Fundamentally, Sheriff Glanz has exhibited, time and time again, over a period of many years, deliberate indifference to the health and safety of inmates and citizens on the street, alike,” the amended complaint states. “Sheriff Glanz has displayed a remarkable willingness to place his personal, political and financial relationships over the safety of inmates and the community at large. Whether it is his relationship with the CEO of the former private medical provider at the jail or his relationship with defendant Robert C. Bates, Sheriff Glanz has continually over-prioritized these relationships at the expense of public safety.”
The plaintiffs say “no reasonable officer” could have mistaken a gun for a Taser.
“The .357 revolver was Bates’ own personal firearm,” the amended complaint states. “It was not issued to him by TCSO. Consistent with Sheriff Glanz/TCSO’s failure to train and supervise Bates, and in violation of TCSO policy, there is no evidence that Bates was ever trained or certified to use the .357 revolver as his service weapon. Further, the Smith & Wesson .357 revolver was not on the list of approved firearms deputies can carry on duty.”
The gunshot was unreasonable and excessive because Harris was unarmed and already had been subdued by other deputies, the complaint states.
The plaintiffs also question Bates’ statement that he drew his gun after leaving his vehicle. They claim that a former sheriff’s detective said Bates grabbed the gun from his trunk and had it in his right hand from the moment he left the vehicle.
A third plaintiff, Terry Byrum, also joined the lawsuit Sunday. Byrum claims Bates Tasered him while he was already handcuffed on the ground on Feb. 12, two months before Harris was killed.
“The force used by Bates was objectively unreasonable. Bates’ use of a Taser on Byrum when he was handcuffed, on the ground and subdued was completely unnecessary,” the amended complaint states. “Because Byrum did not pose any immediate threat and was not actively resisting arrest, Bates had no reasonable basis to employ any force on Byrum. The use of a Taser under the circumstances constitutes clearly excessive use of force.”
Other defendants include Bates, the Board of Tulsa County Commissioners and Armor Correctional Health Services.
Sheriff’s spokesman Terry Simonson told the Tulsa World late Monday that he had not seen the amended complaint.
“Since the Sheriffs’ Office has not been served the court papers, it cannot comment on what appears to be yet another seemingly baseless and frivolous lawsuit seeking taxpayer money,” Simonson said. “The taxpayers of Tulsa County need to be protected from these tactics with a vigorous defense, which will occur.”
Glanz has been sheriff of Tulsa for more than 25 years. In a May 10 editorial, the Tulsa World praised his record, but said it was time for him to retire.
Citing a 2009 memo specifically addressing Bates, the World said the memo showed that “questions of favoritism and lack of training concerning Bates had been raised by department supervisors, but that higher ranking sheriff’s officials quashed those questions.”
Then records from a dismissed federal court case surfaced in Oklahoma City surfaced, in which Bates bragged about his influence with the sheriff. “On tape, Bates says he hadn’t paid his attorney yet, adding ‘Let’s say, I mean, he knows I’ve done some s— for him at the Sheriff’s Office for some of his clients,'” according to the World’s editorial.
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