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Businessman Who Paid to Be a Cop Headed to Prison for Shooting Unarmed Black Man

The insurance executive claimed he mistook his gun for his Taser in a fatal shooting that occurred while he was working as a volunteer sheriff’s deputy in Oklahoma.
Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP

A wealthy Oklahoma insurance executive who shot and killed an unarmed black man last year while working as volunteer sheriff's deputy in Tulsa has been sentenced to four years in prison.

A judge in Tulsa County handed Robert Bates, 74, the maximum penalty recommended by jurors on Tuesday. The former Tulsa County Reserve Sheriff's Deputy was found guilty last month of second-degree manslaughter for the murder of Eric Harris, 44, on April 2, 2015. Bates claimed his mistook his gun for a Taser during the incident.


The fatal shooting, which was captured on video, occurred during an illegal gun sales sting operation. The incident triggered several investigations, and one of the probes focused on the businessman's qualifications and position as a reservist deputy serving on the sheriff's Violent Crime Task Force. Bates had reportedly paid handsomely for the privilege, donating cars and thousands of dollars in other equipment to the department since joining in 2007.

In a video of the fatal shooting, Bates can be heard crying, "I shot him! I'm sorry!" He later told CNN that he regretted the incident, but said, "It can happen to anyone."

Bates, a longtime friend and former campaign donor to Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, also denied allegations that he did not complete the required 480 hours of training and firearms certification that qualified him to serve as an advanced reservist, the highest rank among Tulsa's auxiliary forces. The position essentially allowed him to carry out the same duties as any regular deputy.

Defense attorneys for Bates said they plan to appeal the sentence, citing their client's ailing health. Bates has been diagnosed with a host of medical conditions, including sleep apnea, cardiovascular problems, and low testosterone.

Related: Deputy Reservists 'Pay to Play' Cop — and Not Just in Oklahoma

Among the witnesses called to testify on Tuesday was Harris' 17-year-old son, Aiden, who said graduating from high school this month without his father there "crushed him."

The younger Harris said he had forgiven Bates, but said there had to be consequences for his actions.

The judge denied a request from Bates' attorneys for a 30-day extension to file a motion for a new trial. Oklahoma allows for such a request if good cause can be shown, but the judge disagreed with the defense's assertion that the lack of a completed trial transcript met that threshold.

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