Tulsa D.A. Recuses Himself From Probe

TULSA (CN) – The Tulsa County District Attorney recused himself from investigating the sheriff’s office, whose reserve deputy killed an unarmed black man, mistaking his own gun for a Taser.
     District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler will be replaced by Okmulgee County District Attorney Rob Barris because of “perceived conflicts of interest,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said.
     Kunzweiler’s office charged reserve deputy Robert C. Bates, 73, with second-degree manslaughter involving culpable negligence on April 13 and is still in charge of that prosecution.
     A body camera video shows Bates shooting and killing Eric Courtney Harris, 44, during an April 2 traffic stop.
     Harris is shown running away from deputies as they pull up to his vehicle. He is chased down, held to the ground by several deputies and a single gunshot is heard.
     Bates immediately apologizes as Harris screams that he has been shot.
     As Bates lies on the ground screaming that he is losing his breath, an officer says, “ Fuck your breath .”
     Weeks after the killing, Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s second-in-command – Undersheriff Tim Albin – resigned upon the release of an internal memo indicating he demanded preferential treatment for Bates in completing required training.
     “Because the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office has historically provided representation to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office on a number of civil litigation matters, I am concerned that there could be a perception that my office might have a conflict in directing such an investigation into the internal affairs of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office,” Kunzweiler said Monday in a statement.
     “In order to protect the integrity of the investigative process and to assure the objectivity of any decisions which may flow from that investigative process, I believe the recusal of my office is necessary.”
     Kunzweiler said he is “satisfied that the investigations I have requested are under way” concerning the “serious issues and allegations raised by that memo.” He said the appointment of another district attorney is “not only proper but consistent with my ethical responsibilities.”
     Pruitt said his office has been in communication with Kunzweiler as he assessed what steps to take in investigating Glanz’s office.
     “I appreciate District Attorney Kunzweiler’s assistance as this matter is transitioned to another office,” Pruitt said. “I have confidence District Attorney Barris will be able to conduct a thorough and independent investigation to ensure the interests and concerns of citizens are addressed as it relates to the sheriff’s office.”
     The judge assigned to Bates’ criminal case is also considering recusing himself due to possible conflicts of interest with Glanz’s office.
     Tulsa County District Judge James Caputo disclosed in April that he worked at the sheriff’s office for seven years and that his daughter was also an employee there. Caputo said no one has asked him to recuse himself, but that he was considering it and that 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 said at the time. “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 a 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.”

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