US deputy charged in fatal shooting of black Oklahoma suspect

2015-04-14 10:50
Reserve deputy Robert Bates. (Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, AP)

Reserve deputy Robert Bates. (Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, AP)

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Washington - A white volunteer deputy sheriff in Oklahoma was charged on Monday with manslaughter for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black male suspect that was recorded on video.

Robert Bates, aged 72, thought he had drawn his Taser stun gun when he shot Eric Harris, aged 44, a suspect in an undercover gun-sale operation, on 2 April, police have said.

"He shot me! Oh, my God!" Harris is heard screaming in a video released over the weekend, in which deputies are seen pinning him to the sidewalk and a voice believed to be Bates' says: "I shot him. I'm sorry."

In a statement, the Tulsa district attorney's Office said Bates, a Tulsa County reserve deputy since 2008, had been charged with second-degree manslaughter "involving culpable negligence".

Under Oklahoma law, culpable negligence is defined as "the lack of the usual ordinary care and caution" in the performance of one's duties, said Tulsa County district attorney Stephen Kunzweiler.

Conviction carries a prison term of two to four years.

Last week, a South Carolina police officer, Michael Slager, was charged with murder after a passerby caught him on video fatally shooting an African-American male, Walter Scott, after a routine traffic stop.

The cellphone video, from 4 April, shows Slager firing at Scott eight times in the back in a vacant lot as the suspect was running away.

Police restrain 44-year-old Eric Harris after he was chased down and tackled by a Tulsa County Deputy, and then shot by a reserve sheriff's deputy while in custody, in Tulsa. (Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, AP)

Bates, aged 72, an insurance broker in Tulsa who contributed to the Tulsa County sheriff's re-election campaign, has publicly acknowledged shooting Harris, a one-time convict who was tackled while fleeing an undercover gun sale sting operation.

"It was me," said Bates, a successful Tulsa insurance broker by day, told the Tulsa World newspaper.

He declined to say more on the advice of his lawyer, but the World reported that he is among several well-to-do Tulsa residents who moonlight as reserve deputies.

A Tulsa city police officer called in to investigate the shooting defended Bates over the weekend, saying he drawn the wrong weapon in the midst of a hot pursuit.

The shooting was recorded by a deputy sheriff wearing sunglasses fitted with a tiny video camera, one of several types of body cameras being adopted by more and more US law enforcement agencies.

The killing of black men by white police officers has become a major issue in the United States since the 9 August death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri ignited sometimes violent protests nationwide.

In California, 10 sheriff's deputies have been suspended after they were recorded last on Thursday by a news helicopter kicking and beating a suspect fleeing on horseback in San Bernardino county.

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