Civil Lawsuit Against Tulsa County Reserve Deputy in Eric Harris’ Death Continues

From left, Robert Bates, a former Oklahoma volunteer sheriff’s deputy who said he mistook his handgun for his stun gun when he fatally shot an unarmed suspect in 2015, and Eric Harris, the suspect who was shot.

A federal judge has declined to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit filed against six defendants by the estate of Eric Harris, who was shot to death while being detained by Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office personnel.

The ruling Thursday by U.S. District Judge John Dowdell clears the way for the lawsuit to move to the discovery stage.

Harris was shot to death April 2, 2015, by former Tulsa County Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, who said he mistook his handgun for a Taser when he fired the revolver into Harris’ back while other deputies held Harris on the ground.

Harris had briefly fled from deputies during an undercover gun sting.

The estate of Harris filed a civil lawsuit Jan. 6, 2016, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, naming Bates, former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado and deputies Michael Huckeby, Joseph Byars and Ricardo Vaca. Huckeby is no longer employed by the Sheriff’s Office.

A jury subsequently found Bates guilty of second-degree manslaughter in Harris’ death.

Bates, 76, served about 18 months of a four-year sentence before being released from prison in October.

The civil lawsuit brought by Harris’ estate claims Sheriff’s Office personnel used excessive force and were deliberately indifferent to Harris’ serious medical needs after he was shot. The lawsuit alleges Glanz should be held personally liable for Harris’ death because the sheriff failed to train and supervise Bates.

Bates claimed the lawsuit should be dismissed because the shooting was accidental.

But Dowdell, in his opinion and order, noted that Harris’ estate alleged that Bates did not mistake his gun for his Taser, and that even the use of a Taser on a subdued, non-fleeing, unarmed person would have constituted excessive force.

“The facts alleged as to Bates — that he used deadly force on an unarmed, subdued person who was not fleeing — state a plausible claim for excessive force against Bates,” Dowdell wrote in his ruling.

Glanz, in his dismissal request, noted that he did not personally participate in causing Harris’ alleged constitutional deprivation, nor was he privy to any information that would allow a reasonable finder of fact to conclude that he ignored an excessive risk of harm to Harris.

However, Dowdell notes that Glanz recognizes that an official may be personally liable where he promulgated, created, implemented or possessed responsibility for the continued operation of a policy that caused constitutional harm and acted with the state of mind required to establish the alleged constitutional deprivation.

Harris “has stated claims for individual liability against Glanz,” Dowdell wrote.

“Those allegations include that Glanz was responsible for policies of providing preferential treatment to his long-time friend and financial supporter, Robert Bates, which included exempting Bates from mandatory training requirements that were established to protect the public, with deliberate indifference to the known, excessive risks to the public who would encounter Bates,” Dowdell wrote.

The judge also denied dismissal requests filed on behalf of the three deputies and Regalado, who is sued in his official capacity, or effectively as a representative for Tulsa County. Regalado was not an employee of the Sheriff’s Office at the time of Harris’ death.

“Indeed, the plaintiff alleges that training was falsified, policies put in place to protect the public were blatantly ignored in order to allow Bates to ‘play cop,’ and regular TCSO employees who brought Bates’ alleged incompetence and lack of training to the attention of senior TCSO officials were ignored, silenced, moved from their supervisory positions over Bates, and/or subject to retaliation for raising any issue regarding Bates,” the judge wrote in rejecting Regalado’s dismissal request.

A trial date has not been set.


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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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