A wealthy Oklahoma businessman who also served as a reserve deputy said killing an unarmed black man is at least the second-worst thing that has ever happened to him.
Robert Bates interrupted an appearance Friday morning on the “Today” show to apologize to the family of Eric Harris, who he fatally shot April 2 during an undercover operation in Tulsa.
“You know, this is the second-worst thing that’s ever happened to me – or first,” Bates said. “I had cancer a number of years ago. I didn’t think I was going to get there. Luckily, I was able to go to a hospital, where I had hours of surgery. I rate this as number one on my list of things in my life that I regret.”
The 73-year-old Bates, who was charged with second-degree manslaughter, said he was shocked when he reached for his Taser to subdue the fleeing Harris but instead pulled and fired his service revolver.
“The laser light is the same on each weapon,” he said. “I saw the light, and I squeezed the trigger, and then realized I dropped the gun. This was not an intentional thing — I had no desire to ever take anyone’s life.”
Host Matt Lauer asked Bates — who was surrounded by his wife, his two daughters, and his attorney – to stand up and demonstrate where he kept the Taser and firearm, and the reserve deputy readily complied.
“My Taser is right here on the front,” he said, pointing to the center of his chest, “tucked in a protective vest, (and) my gun itself is on my side (on right hip), normally to the rear.”
Lauer asked how he could mistake the two weapons when they are kept on different parts of his body.
“This has happened a number of times around the country,” Bates said. “I have read about it in the past. I thought to myself after reading other cases, I don’t understand how this can happen. You must believe me – it can happen to anyone. “
Bates, a fishing buddy and personal friend of the sheriff’s, said it was “unbelievably unfair” to portray him as a wealthy donor who was permitted to play cop.
He and his attorney strongly disputed reports that his supervisors were ordered to falsify his training records and punished if they refused.
Bates and his attorney both blamed the accusations on Warren Crittenden, a former sheriff’s deputy currently jailed on first-degree murder charges, who he said signed off on some of his training records.
They said Crittenden, a former professional wrestler, is represented by the same law firm representing Harris’ family – and Bates said the firm has represented other employees fired by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
Lauer asked Bates if he had considered the possibility that he might spend four years in prison, if convicted.
“Certainly, how could I not?” Bates said.
Watch the interview posted online by NBC: