robert bates

Reserve Deputy Sheriff Robert Bates

*There are so many troubling aspects to this most recent police shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma; I am not sure where to begin.

Last week the world watched in disbelief as former North Charleston, South Carolina white, police officer Michael Slager executed unarmed, black, Walter Scott during a traffic stop for an inoperable third tail light. That’ s right, Scott’s third tail light apparently did not work. While I am not certain that the “third” tail light is  mandated vehicle equipment – I’m clear an equipment violation should not end in death.

This week we learn that in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 73-year  old,  Reserve Deputy Sheriff Robert Bates,   mistakenly grabbed and fired his duty weapon rather than a taser which resulted in the death of a 44-year-old unarmed black man;  Eric Harris.

I’m curious as to  why the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department allowed a 73-yr old man  to work a patrol assignment? Patrol is a young man’s game. I understand Bates may have wanted to enjoy the perks associated with being a peace officer; but wouldn’t a desk assignment or police station greeter suffice.

Bates, an insurance executive-turned-deputy donated thousands of dollars in vehicles and equipment to the Tulsa County Sheriff Department and also chaired the 2012 reelection campaign of  Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz.  There you go – money trumps common sense.

The question that begs to be answered is whether or not Bates had been put through the rigors of the presumed battery of tests given to most pre-recruit candidates;   physical agility, medical screening,  psychological evaluation, vision testing etc before he was unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

Understanding what is expected and required in a patrol assignment, it is hard to understand why anyone north of seventy would seek such an assignment. So, lots of money has been spent (by Bates) and undoubtedly lots of money will be paid (by Tulsa County) to the family of Eric Harris.

That is unless, Tulsa City Police Sergeant Jim Clark, who was bought in as the “independent consultant”  successfully explains away the circumstances leading up to the fatal shooting,  According to Sgt. Clark,  a  “scientific phrase” – slip and capture explained what happened when Deputy Bates  mistakenly grabbed his gun.  As a retired twenty year veteran sergeant of the Los Angeles Police Department – let me just say that I have never heard of such foolishness; slip and capture?

First of all,  “slip and capture” is not a “scientific phrase” as stated by Clark in a press conference. What does that even mean; scientific phrase?  As a community advocate, and police expert what I find most meaningful in terms of my work is – “Deciphering Police Code Talk”.   In simpler terms, I identify and expose  the BS.

There is no record of a scientific finding as far as I could tell with regard to this relatively new police term. Secondly, how “independent” is  this consultant if he is already trying to minimize and mitigate the poor tactics used by Deputy Bates.

The presumed genesis of the “scientific-phrase:  In 2010, two expert witnesses were called in to testify during the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) murder trial of (former) BART Officer Johannes Mehserle; Dr. Bill  Lewinski and LAPD Captain Greg Myer  from the witness stand, explained how, in their OPINIONS , psychological concepts such as “slips-and-capture errors” and “inattentional blindness,” along with equipment positioning and an absence of stress-inoculation training, became driving factors in the controversial case.  The opinions of  Greg Myer and Dr. Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute does not a “scientific phrase” make.

These two experts and their opinions apparently played a major role in that Mehserle was exonerated of murder and convicted of a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. Jurors and others give great deference to the testimony and opinion of police officers; particularly a high-ranking captain from a major metropolitan police department.

As in the “fear for my safety” defense that seems to permeate the unjustified killing of black and brown men nationwide – we should expect more of the “slip and capture” excuse when an officer mistakenly grabs the wrong gun in a lethal incident.

Sgt. Clark goes on to opine that the officers experienced auditory exclusion – in other words they had been deafened by the sound of the gun shot and didn’t realize that Harris had been shot when he cried out that he could not breathe.  One of the officers responded, “”You f**king ran! Shut the f**k up!” he yells. “F**k your breath”.

This independent consultant, Sgt. Clark went on to state that “Reserve Deputy Bates did not commit a crime. Reserve Deputy Bates was a victim, a true victim of slip and capture,” he said. “There’s no other determination I could come to.”

In a recent CNN interview, I recounted that, based on my lived experiences, I understand that it is common place at the end of a foot pursuit for police officers to engage in what I refer to as a “pack” mentality and overly aggressive activity. This is much like the excessive force recently recorded by a news helicopter in San Bernardino, California, at the end of a pursuit of 30-year-old Francis Pusok. The actions recorded of these deputies had little to do with controlling and cuffing Pusok and more to do with punishment. Pusok had been found guilty of contempt of cop; he ran.

Media and the Tulsa authorities appear to be in full “circle the wagons” mode.  Tulsa Sheriff’s Captain Bill McKelvey stated regarding Bates; “He made an inadvertent mistake.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Harris has been reported as a felon, PCP suspect, “an absolute threat”; the usual vilification that occurs in the media when a police officer messes up and now it’s time to play wack-a-mo on the dead guy.

In another CNN interview, I commented with regard to police officers and amount of training particularly as it relates to hand gun training. It is unconscionable to infer that its okay for a highly trained police professional to be unable to differentiate between his service revolver and a taser gun. As if with any other profession, one would expect a professional to understand the difference between let’s say – a knife and fork if I am a chef.

The National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice, Reform and Accountability (NCLEO4J) is encouraged now that Bates has been charged with  second degree manslaughter for the shooting of Harris, however,  are there more  pay-to-play deputies on this department?

Cheryl Dorsey1a

Cheryl Dorsey

Cheryl Dorsey is a retired LAPD sergeant, speaker, and much sought after police expert on important issues making national headlines. As such, she has appeared as a police expert on Nancy Grace,  Dr. Phil Show ,CNN International HLN and KPCC.  She is the author of The Creation of a Manifesto, Black & Blue; an autobiography that pulls the covers of the LAPD and provides an unfiltered look into the department’s internal processes. Visit Cheryl’s website, listen to her on Soundcloud  follow on Twitter @retLAPDsgt  andBlackandBlueNews