Tulsa Sheriff Indicted in Connection with Shooting of Unarmed Suspect

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Several months ago, we covered this story of the tragic shooting of an unarmed suspect at the hands of the Tulsa “police.” I put scare quotations around the word police because it turns out that the officer in question was actually a 73 year old insurance executive who basically purchased his way into an unpaid sheriff’s deputy position (complete with badge, taser, and gun) by making generous donations to the department over time.

This “officer,” Robert Bates, claimed that he was attempting to reach for his taser and instead mistakenly pulled out his firearm and shot it.

Of course, this story raised a whole host of uncomfortable questions for Tulsa Sheriff Stanley Glanz – questions about how Bates came to obtain his position with his department and whether he should ever have been involved with the raid in the first place. Although Glanz has steadfastly denied wrongdoing, those questions ultimately resulted in the empaneling of a grand jury and were answered yesterday with criminal indictments, which has finally led to Glanz stepping down. The allegations are extraordinarily damning, as you might expect for a story that brought down a sheriff in Oklahoma:

The nine-week grand jury process resulted in eight allegations for the removal of Sheriff Stanley Glanz, with testimony indicating that Glanz told key figures to “keep your mouth shut” and “if I was you, I wouldn’t talk about this,” according to the court record.

One allegation is that Glanz’s actions created a potentially dangerous environment for others at the firing range. After then-Reserve Deputy Robert Bates was reprimanded for unsafely handling his gun at the range, he refused to complete the course and received a failing grade, the grand jury report says. Glanz then contacted instructors and told them to “take it easy” and “pass him,” the document says.

Allegations were also made that Glanz profited personally from Sheriff’s Office purchases.

Rank corruption aside, this story remains an important cautionary tale with respect to two of the most under-reported issues with respect to criminal justice reform – inadequate police training and the attitude among police that tasers are harmless.

[L]ack of adequate hand-to-hand combat training by police has led them to become too reliant on tasers, and too quick to utilize them in scenarios where their use is neither justified nor necessary. Department of Justice research has shown that, while tasers can be an effective tool to preserve the health and safety of law enforcement officers, their use is

“rapidly overtaking other force alternatives” among police departments and in some cases are being used at a rate that exceeds that of officers using “soft empty hand tactics,” or simple pushing or grappling with resistant suspects.

In particular, surveys of police department policies show that little or no direction is being given to officers regarding when and where to use a taser, or when their use might be dangerous, leading to the perception that use of a taser is harmless:

  • According to surveys of police departments, rules regarding Taser use vary widely. Six of every ten departments allow “for CED use against a subject who tenses and pulls when the officer tries to handcuff him or her.” In addition, only 31% ban CED use against clearly pregnant women, 25.9% against drivers of moving vehicles, 23.3% against handcuffed suspects, 23.2% against people in elevated areas and 10% against the elderly.

What we see on the video is a perfect illustration of exactly that principle. We can see that there are 6 or 7 cops around a suspect who is on the ground and being subdued by two officers whose arm muscles are bigger than my legs. There are 3 or 4 more who are visible at various points in the video indicating that they are all standing around. Under these circumstances, there is absolutely no reason to have pulled the taser and used it in the first place – not only to have subdued the suspect but also because in such a scenario the taser would have been equally likely to strike the officer who had the suspect on the ground.

At the end of the day, it is probably a good thing that Glanz is out in Tulsa, but the takeaway here should not be that this was one bad Sheriff or that his removal will fix the systemic problems at play.