Wielding Life and Death

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The saga of the killing of Eric Harris in a Tulsa sting operation by Robert Bates, a rich 73-year-old insurance executive who evidently liked playing cops and robbers enough he gave the sheriff thousands of dollars worth of toys so he could wear a uniform and a badge "that was bought not earned," just keeps getting sketchier. Multiple sources have now come forward to charge that supervisors at the sheriff's office falsified his training records and weapons certifications, even as a rambling Bates has come forward to say he feels terrible about the shooting but mistaking a Taser and gun "can happen to anyone."

Bates was an insurance company CEO who had donated five vehicles, video equipment and many other toys to the sheriff's department, including the sunglasses cameras that recorded him shooting Eric Harris, wanted for selling illegal guns, in a bungled arrest on April 2. Bates was also a longtime supporter and fishing pal of the sheriff, who has defended Bates with the incomparable, "Bob and I both love to fish - is it wrong to have a friend?" Bates was one of 130 mostly wealthy deputy sheriffs in Tulsa's so-called “Buy-a-Badge” program, which critics charge "effectively deputize(s) random civilians" with the time and money and sick urge to play "weekend warrior."

Shortly after video emerged of Bates shooting Harris, reportedly because he mistook his gun for a Taser, he was charged with manslaughter. The next day, Tulsa World started getting multiple tips that supervisors at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office had been ordered to falsify Bates' training records and firearms certifications, and that at least three supervisors had been transferred after refusing to sign off on his bogus training claims. There were also reports that real cops often worried about pretend cop Bates' tendency toward "wielding his weapon unnecessarily," aka waving his way-fun gun around; it's unclear if he also took to running those cool lights and sirens unnecessarily as well. Harris' family also claimed law enforcement officials tried to discourage them from getting a lawyer, which would just "gum things up."

The Sheriff's office - duh - denied all those reports as "deceptive," "unconfirmed," and "rumors." They listed the courses Bates supposedly took (but declined to name the supervisors in charge of them); they said Bates "qualified with a young lady that was a firearms instructor" but they couldn't find the certification; they said Bates "met all the criteria...to be in the role that he was in"; they insisted, "The training record speaks for itself," they had "absolutely no knowledge of what (critics) are talking about,” and, most memorably,  “There aren’t any secrets in law enforcement. Zero."

Bates and his lawyer haven't much helped their case. The lawyer argued critics were "taking the fact that he's been good to the community" and "making it something sinister." In his statement to police, Bates said he'd been told Harris was "a bad son-of-a-bitch" and that he thought Harris had a gun because he was "running in an unusual way" with one hand touching his waist, though in fact, the video clearly shows him running with both arms flailing because - surprise! - he had no gun. Bizarrely, Bates also said he'd attended training at the Maricopa County "Go Joe" Sheriff's Office, though in fact they said they had no record of the alleged training. And in a disjointed interview on The Today Show, surrounded by family patting his back, Bates said this was the second worst thing after getting cancer he's had to deal with in life, or maybe even the first. He also showed how he had his taser at his chest on one side and his gun at his hip on the other side but yes somehow he did confuse them, and as unlikely as it seems, "It can happen to anyone," except it happened to him, and oh yeah, also to Eric Harris, who was accidentally executed for a low-rent crime and is now, you know, dead.

The ACLU has blasted Tulsa law enforcement's "clear pattern of corruption" and cronyism, called for an end to the "Buy-a-Badge" program, and urged an independent investigation rather than the sheriff's office internal review finally, reluctantly announced. Many others have likewise ripped the "disgusting fundraising gimmick" whereby rich old bored cop groupies can get their rocks off by giving away expensive toys in exchange for getting to wear badges and uniforms, drive fast cars, bully mostly poor, black and ill people and otherwise pretend to be an alleged good guy with a gun. Within a corporate culture, is there anything that can't be bought by the highest bidder? In Tulsa, in too many places, evidently not. From the ACLU, "An elderly man who didn’t know the difference between a Taser and a gun shouldn't be able to purchase the right to wield life and death over his fellow citizens under color of authority...no matter how many cars he’s donated to the sheriff’s office." For that supreme arrogance, Eric Harris paid the price.

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