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US officer charged in fatal shooting of black suspect

April 14, 2015

A white reserve police deputy from Oklahoma has been charged with manslaughter over the death of an unarmed black suspect. Other officers have said Robert Bates confused his stun gun and his handgun.

Proteste USA North Charleston
Image: Reuters/Hill

Robert Bates, a police deputy from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was charged with second-degree manslaughter on Monday in the latest high-profile case of an unarmed African-American being killed by a white officer.

A video of the April 2 incident was collected from a body camera worn by a deputy sheriff who was also present. This technology is being used by an increasing number of US law enforcement agencies following several similar incidences over the past year, including the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. The deaths sparked nationwide protests over perceived racial bias and overzealousness of police officers.

'I'm sorry'

The video showed Eric Harris, 44, pinned to the ground before Bates, 73, fatally shot the victim, allegedly confusing his stun gun and his handgun. A voice on the footage, believed to be that of Bates, could be heard apologizing afterward.

"I shot him. I'm sorry," said the officer.

Police from the Tulsa County Sheriff's Department were conducting an undercover gun-sale operation when Harris ran off, said a press release from the sheriff's office.

In a statement, Harris' family said they were saddened and shocked by the incident, but what they found most disturbing was the "inhumane and malicious treatment of Eric after he was shot."

Reserve deputies not as trained as other officers

Bates has been a reserve deputy since 2008, a position on the police force that is entirely voluntary and not paid. Deputies are still allowed to do "anything a full-time deputy can do," according to the Tulsa World newspaper, quoting a police spokesman.

The use of reserve officers is commonplace in communities lacking the necessary resources for adequate policing. They are allowed to carry firearms, but receive less training than regular officers.

Bates' charge of second-degree manslaughter "involving culpable negligence" can carry a prison term of two to four years, if convicted.

This is the second time this month that footage has emerged of a white police officer killing an unarmed black man in the US. Last week, two videos shot by a bystander showed a confrontation between police officer Michael Slager and 50-year-old Walter Scott in South Carolina, which escalated before Slager shot Scott in the back, killing him.

Unlike the officers involved in the deaths of Brown and Garner last year, Slager and Bates will both face charges.

es/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa)