An Oklahoma reserve deputy, who fatally shot a man when he said he accidentally grabbed his gun instead of his Taser, apologized to the victim’s family on Friday and said his mistake could have happened to anyone.
Volunteer deputy Robert Bates, in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, also denied a report that he was not properly trained.
“I’d like to apologize to the family of Eric Harris,” Bates, who was surrounded by his family and attorney, said in his first public comment since the shooting.
Oklahoma prosecutors on Monday charged Bates, 73, with second-degree manslaughter in the death of Harris, 44, on April 2. Bates surrendered to authorities on Tuesday and was released on bail.
The incident was the latest in a series of fatal shootings of black men that have fueled a national debate about police use of lethal force, especially against minorities. Bates is white and Harris black.
Referring to a report by the Tulsa World newspaper that supervisors were ordered to falsify his training records, Bates said: “That is not correct.” He said he has a written record showing that he is trained and certified, a paper that was “signed off to say I had done a good job.”
On “Today,” Bates stood up to demonstrate that his Taser was kept on his front side, tucked into his vest, while his gun was located on his right side typically toward the rear. Mistaking the two “can happen to anyone,” he said.
“I yelled ‘Taser, Taser,’ as required in training,” Bates said.
After the shooting, Bates said he thought, “Oh my god, what has happened.”
“This was not an intentional thing. I have no desire to ever take anyone’s life,” Bates said. “I still can’t believe it happened.”
He called the incident the “number one on my list of things in my life that I regret.”
Bates said the portrayal of him as a close friend of the sheriff who was rewarded for his financial support with the law enforcement position is “unbelievably unfair.”
Harris family attorney Donald Smolen told CNN on Friday that he has independent confirmation of the falsification of records by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
Police were pursuing Harris on suspicion of trying to sell a gun illegally to an undercover officer in a police sting.