Tulsa deputy who mistook gun for Taser pleads not guilty, OKd for vacation

Tulsa deputy who mistook gun for Taser pleads not guilty, OKd for vacation
Robert Bates has pleaded not guilty to a manslaughter charge in the fatal shooting of an unarmed suspect. (Tulsa County, Okla., Sheriff's Office)

The Tulsa County sheriff's reserve deputy who fatally shot a man this month when he mistook his personal handgun for a Taser was allowed by a judge on Tuesday to go on vacation before his next court appearance.

Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, 73, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to second-degree manslaughter in the death of Eric Harris, whom he shot during an undercover gun sting.


The judge presiding over Bates' court appearance set his next hearing for July 2 and approved Bates' request to vacation first in the Bahamas. Bates is currently out on $25,000 bond and – if convicted – could face four years in prison.

The decision to allow Bates to travel drew strong criticism from Harris' family.

"Whether intended or not, Mr. Bates' vacationing in the Bahamas at this time sends a message of apathy with respect to the shooting and Eric's life," the Harris family said in a statement released by their attorney Dan Smolen. "At a time when we are still mourning the death of a loved one that he shot down in the street, Mr. Bates will be relaxing and enjoying his wealth and privilege."

Bates did not issue a statement after his brief court hearing Tuesday, and his attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Harris' family has said Bates did not receive sufficient training, but the businessman and reserve deputy has insisted he was well-trained.

On April 2, Harris, 44, was suspected of selling illegal guns and was the subject of an undercover operation.

According to video of the incident, Harris fled as deputies moved in for the arrest and was captured by another deputy a short distance away.

Moments later, Bates approached, yelling "Taser, Taser!" Bates then fired one gunshot.

Bates later said he thought he was armed with his Taser but grabbed his personal gun instead. After an internal investigation, the sheriff's office decided Bates had not committed a crime.

Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report. 

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