Too Early for Recusal Talk in Case Against Cop

     (CN) – It is premature to talk about recusal in a closely followed Tulsa manslaughter case against a white volunteer sheriff’s deputy, a judge with ties to the sheriff’s office said Friday.
     Robert Bates, 73, faces manslaughter charges after a body camera recorded him mistakenly shooting to death an unarmed black suspect, Eric Courtney Harris, 44, on April 2.
     The footage shows Harris running away from deputies as they pull up to his vehicle. He is chased down, held to the ground and a single gunshot is heard. Bates immediately apologizes as Harris screams that he has been shot. An officer is heard saying, “Fuck your breath,” as Harris screams he is losing his breath.
     Tulsa County District Judge James Caputo was randomly assigned the criminal case against Bates. He made headlines Thursday after disclosing that he used to work at the sheriff’s office for seven years and that his daughter was also an employee there.
     Caputo said none of the parties have asked him to recuse himself yet, but that he was considering it.
     In a press release Friday clarifying those comments, Caputo said he “made a pledge that I would never shy away from any case assigned me.”
     “While this case has been randomly assigned to me as the trial judge, I do not yet have jurisdiction of the case,” Caputo’s statement says. “The case is currently set for preliminary hearing at which time a probably cause magistrate must determine if there is probable [cause] that a crime was committed and if there is probably cause that this defendant committed the alleged crime.”
     Caputo cited his track record of impartiality in an earlier case against Andrew Dennehy, who was tried for the shooting of a sheriff’s deputy.
     “Neither party requested that I recuse in that case knowing my relationship with the sheriff’s office,” Caputo said. “I tried this case to a jury verdict. A verdict that wasn’t appealed. This case demonstrated that no matter the parties, or victims may be, I can maintain [my] duty and be true to my oath.”
     Bates faces up to four years in state prison. Days after he was charged, the volunteer sheriff’s deputy publicly apologized to Harris’ family.
     “I thought to myself after reading several cases, ‘I don’t understand how this can happen,'” Bates said on April 17. “You must believe me, it can happen to anyone.”
     Bates said that after he heard the gunshot, he thought “Oh my God, what has happened?”
     Each weapon he carried has a laser to indicate the target.
     “I saw the light and I squeezed the trigger, and then realized I dropped the gun,” he said. “This was not an intentional thing. I had no desire to ever take anyone’s life.”
     Bates has denied reports that other sheriff’s deputies were ordered to falsify his training records.

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