TULSA (CN) — The 74-year-old white Tulsa County sheriff’s volunteer who shot a restrained black man to death after mistaking his gun for his Taser was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison.
Tulsa County Judge William Musseman gave Robert Bates the maximum sentence for second-degree manslaughter during the four-hour hearing. The jury recommended a four-year sentence when it convicted Bates on April 27.
A wealthy insurance executive, Bates’ donations of money, equipment and time to former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s office was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union as a “buy a badge” program that allowed the sheriff’s “favored friends and wealthy donors” to carry guns and badges with less training and experience than professional deputies. The shooting came in the midst of several high-profile shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.
Bates is shown in a body camera video shooting a restrained Eric Harris, 44, during a gun-sale sting and arrest last year.
Bates has steadfastly maintained he mistook his gun for his Taser. He screamed “Taser!” before firing and immediately apologized as Harris screamed that he had been shot.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and flanked by two sheriff’s deputies, Bates blew a kiss to his family as he walked down a hallway into the courtroom.
Bates’ attorney, Clark Brewster with Brewster & De Angelis in Tulsa, asked the judge to sentence Bates to probation, based on 40 years of data he compiled in a sentencing memo. Musseman was not persuaded, calling the data in the report “misleading” and saying there is no other case like Bates’.
The judge denied a defense motion to consider a sentence modification after Bates spends a year in prison, based on his poor health. He also rejected Brewster’s attempt to call a private investigator to testify about conversations he had with three jurors about possible confusion involving Bates’ sentence.
Brewster told reporters he will appeal, based on the standard of care of law enforcement not being debated during trial, and incomplete jury instructions.
“I have never seen a case like it, nor has there been one,” Brewster said. “All of the cases involving police operations require some testimony as to whether it was a departure from that standard of care. The judge did not hold the prosecution to that. And I really believe that it will result in a reversal.”
Bates’ family lashed out at the media after sentencing. His wife, Charlotte Bates, said her husband “is a wonderful pillar of this community.” She begged the judge for probation during her testimony.
“It was a tragic accident, which we are all scarred for life because this man died,” she told reporters. “And to put my husband in prison for four years – my husband will die – and I want all of you to know you’re part of the responsibility for that.”
Bates’ daughter told reporters: “I hope you all feel good about yourselves.”
The jury was not swayed by defense testimony during trial that Harris died from a heart attack, not a gunshot.
A physician testified for the defense that Harris had a heart attack caused by elevated adrenaline and a “very high level” of methamphetamine in his body.
The fallout from Harris’ death has been far-reaching.
Sheriff Glanz resigned in September after a grand jury recommended his suspension, returned ouster proceedings and two misdemeanor criminal indictments.
One indictment alleged that Glanz failed to timely release a 2009 report on whether Bates was given favorable treatment because of his donations.
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