“I’m losing my breath.” – “Fuck your breath.” Those were the last words between Eric Harris and the foul-mouthed police officer kneeling on his head as Harris lay face down on the asphalt in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The white deputy sheriff had shot at Harris who was on the ground. Supposedly, in the heat of the encounter, the deputy mistook his pistol for his taser and an hour later Eric Harris was dead.
This latest deadly shooting by a police officer, including the exchange of words between the two men, was recorded on video. This time, however, it wasn’t recorded by passers-by but by police cameras. A camera mounted in a patrol car recorded Harris running away from the police and being chased. The sound of the shots fired is also audible on the video along with the voice of the 73-year-old deputy Robert Bates saying he was sorry that he mistook his gun for the taser immediately after the shooting.
The attorney representing the Harris family finds it hard to believe that anyone could mistake a taser for a pistol. Taser weapons are chunky, angular, brightly colored and made of plastic. Pistols are smaller and fit comfortably in the hand. Besides that, policemen carry both weapons in separate places. Watching the video raises the question of why it’s at all necessary to taser a man already on the ground and restrained by several police officers.
Eric Harris was no choirboy. He had tried to buy a gun and illegal drugs, but it was his misfortune that he tried to buy them from an undercover police officer. That meeting in a patrol car was recorded on a second video shot by a hidden camera. Harris must have smelled a rat because he abruptly broke off that transaction, threw the door open, jumped from the cruiser and started to flee the scene. The undercover officer’s backup were already observing everything and began pursuit.
Shortly after the deadly shot was fired, a police spokesman in Tulsa released a statement saying that Harris had not been intentionally shot and the deputy wasn’t charged with anything, until after the Harris family engaged an attorney and the video had gone viral on social media.
The 73-year-old Bates had a history of generosity toward the police department and had donated several cars to them. In return, he was permitted to wear the police uniform and ride along on patrols. The United States has thousands of such deputies.
County Sheriff Stanley Glanz called Bates “a longtime friend.” The men were fishing buddies. Glanz also made clear that he had no intention of abolishing the practice of using volunteer deputies.
The Harris family, on the other hand, is asking questions as to whether it’s acceptable practice to allow generous donors to go on dangerous undercover police business; and whether the police should even be accepting gifts from well-heeled citizens who just want to “play cop.”