Tulsa Cop Facing Manslaughter Charges Allowed to Take Caribbean Vacation

Robert Bates, the Oklahoma volunteer sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed an unarmed man earlier this month, is heading to the Bahamas on vacation with the blessing of a local district court. Currently free on $25,000 bond, Bates says he thought he was firing his taser when he fatally shot Eric Harris. The 73-year-old appeared before a judge on Tuesday to enter a not-guilty plea on a charge of second-degree murder. While he was there, he requested that he and his family be allowed to take a “previously planned vacation” to the Caribbean. The judge agreed, stipulating that Bates needed to be back for his July 2 court date.

Reports of the court-sanctioned vacation follow news that a former supervisor of Bates is now in jail for murder. The Daily Beast notes that during a Today show interview, Bates identified former Tulsa deputy Warren Cole Crittenden as the man who oversaw and approved of his training to serve as a reserve officer. Crittenden is currently in jail awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge.

These facts add to the troubling laundry list of issues around Harris’ tragic shooting death. Records suggest that Bates, a wealthy former insurance executive who “donated weapons, stun guns and vehicles to the [Tulsa] Sheriff’s Office,” was essentially allowed to act as an officer because of his generosity toward the sheriff's department. There are questions about whether Tulsa officers skimped on Bates’ training, leaving him ill-equipped to participate in law enforcement activities, much less carry a gun.

Some people are wondering whether the judge’s decision to allow Bates to leave the country isn’t another example of the special treatment privilege affords. Royal Oakes, a Los Angeles-based attorney who spoke to USA Today, noted that while "[t]here's no hard and fast rule against letting a defendant leave the country,” the particulars of this case make the judge’s decision beyond unusual. "[I]n a manslaughter case where Bates is accused of buying his way into a position for which he was unsuited, the court is inviting major-league second-guessing of the order.''

The family of Eric Harris released a statement about the judge’s decision. The message states, in part, “Mr. Bates’ vacationing in the Bahamas at this time sends a message of apathy with respect to the shooting and Eric’s life…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.”

If convicted, Bates faces a maximum sentence of just four years and $1,000 in fines.  

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