Oklahoma's top law enforcement agency is investigating the Tulsa Sheriff's Department, which hired a wealthy reserve deputy who shot and killed an unarmed man this year, officials said Monday.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation opened its review of the Sheriff's Department following a request from local prosecutors, the agency said in a brief statement. The Sheriff's Department has weathered accusations of cronyism and misconduct within its reserve deputy program since the April 2 killing of Eric Harris.
Harris, 44, the target of an undercover sting, was running from officers when he was shot and killed by Robert Bates, 73, a close friend of Tulsa Sheriff Stanely Glanz. Bates has said he meant to deploy his stun gun but grabbed his firearm by mistake.
An internal Sheriff's Department review ruled that Bates made an excusable error, but prosecutors charged Bates with second-degree manslaughter.
Harris' family has raised questions about Bates' training. Last month, the family's attorney released a 2009 internal affairs report that accused two high-ranking sheriff's deputies of retaliating against lower-ranking officers who questioned Bates' qualifications, allowing the former insurance executive to quickly climb the ranks.
The internal report detailed several instances where Bates involved himself in police actions for which he had not been trained. When challenged about his need for additional training, Bates boasted about his connection to Glanz, the report said.
The officers named in the report, Chief Tim Albin and Capt. Tom Huckeby, have since resigned.
After the internal affairs documents became public last month, the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office said it had opened an investigation into allegations of misconduct in the Sheriff's Department.
Tulsa County Dist. Atty. Steve Kunzweiler has since recused his office from the investigation, turning it over to Okmulgee County Dist. Atty. O.R. Barris, state officials said. Barris asked the Bureau of Investigation to take over the review of the Sheriff's Department last week, the statement said.
Shortly after Harris was killed, Glanz said he did not ask the Bureau of Investigation to review the shooting because his place on its board of directors could be considered a conflict of interest.
"At this point, the more agencies, so long as they are truly objective, that are reviewing this situation, the better," said Dan Smolen, an attorney for the Harris family. "But again, we’re months away from when this event broke. So I don’t know exactly what they are investigating."
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