OKLAHOMA CITY (CBS SF) — A defense witness for the BART police officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant has been contacted by lawyers for the Tulsa, Oklahoma reserve deputy facing charges in the killing of a suspect caught on camera.
73-year-old Robert Charles Bates turned himself in to authorities Tuesday, days after the release of a body-cam video in which he appears to mistakenly shoot Eric Courtney Harris with a gun instead of a Taser.
The case is similar to the BART police shooting in which Officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Grant on New Year’s Day 2009 at the Fruitvale Station. Mehserle said he accidentally grabbed his firearm instead of the stun gun when he shot Grant in the back when he was handcuffed and lying face down on the platform.
One of Mehserle’s defense witnesses, Dr. Bill Lewinski of the Force Science Institute, told the Los Angeles Times he has already been contacted by Bates’ lawyers.
Lewinski testified in the Grant case that high-stress situations can cause police officers to lose mental focus and revert to familiar actions such as reaching for a gun instead of a Taser. He has been criticized in the past for siding with police officers too often in questionable shootings.
Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and found not guilty of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. He served two years in protective custody in the Los Angeles County jail.
Bates is a wealthy insurance executive with close ties to the Tulsa County sheriff. His work with the sheriff’s office has called into question the practice of using volunteer officers to supplement full-time police.
The sheriff’s office concluded in its own investigation that the volunteer deputy’s accidental use of the gun was not a crime.
On Monday however, the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office disagreed and charged him with second-degree manslaughter, which carries up to a four-year prison term.
Bates’ attorney has argued that the split-second mistake is akin to doctors who make similar errors but do not face similar charges.