TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Bringing in an outside prosecutor to investigate the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office will help restore the public’s trust in an agency that’s been hounded by criticism since a volunteer deputy fatally shot an unarmed and restrained man last month, according to those who knew the slain man.
Since the April 2 shooting of Eric Harris, questions have arisen about the agency’s reserve deputy program and whether some wealthier supporters of the Sheriff’s Office have been able to win plush assignments or enjoy preferential treatment from administrators. The Oklahoma attorney general on Wednesday appointed Okmulgee County District Attorney Rob Barris to lead an investigation.
“That’s how we know it is working. It would be best to bring in a neutral party who has no ties to anyone,” Diahanne McClellan, who is a friend of the Harris family, said Thursday. “I think there’s a better chance of eliminating those ideas and suggestions from the good ol’ boys. I think the (independent review) has a better chance of being fair.”
A local civil rights group is also petitioning for a grand jury to investigate whether Sheriff Stanley Glanz neglected his duties and whether reservists who gave gifts to the sheriff were treated better. Marq Lewis, an organizer of the group We the People Oklahoma, estimated late Thursday that it had collected about half the 5,000 signatures required.
Volunteer deputy Robert Bates, a longtime friend of Glanz, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter in Harris’ death. He says he confused his stun gun and handgun when he shot the unarmed man during a sting operation involving gun sales.
Harris’ brother Andre Harris is a minister who fixes up homes and mows lawns to make ends meet. He acknowledged this week in an interview with The Associated Press that his brother ran drugs and sold guns illegally. But he insists his brother wasn’t a “thug,” just someone trying to earn a living and support a family.
“Eric was on the wrong side of the law, absolutely,” Andre Harris said, speaking to a reporter in the law office of his late brother’s attorney. “But I think in that case, the law was already on the wrong side. Well, you got unqualified people out there playing law.”
He also said his brother “would do anything he wanted to do to, you know, be able to help take care of people.”
Weeks after the shooting, an attorney for Harris’ family released a 2009 memo in which several Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office members raised concerns about the performance and training of Bates, who has donated tens of thousands of dollars in cash and equipment to the Sheriff’s Office. Bates also was Glanz’ campaign manager during the 2012 election.
Since then, two top administrators have resigned and the agency’s spokesman is on paid administrative review. The reserve deputy program has been temporarily shelved pending an internal review of the certification and training records of its 126 reserve deputies.
The attorney general appointed an outside prosecutor to investigate at the request of Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, who said he wanted someone else to conduct the investigation to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.
Glanz continues to say he won’t step down, though he won’t seek re-election next year.
“Quitting because it’s demanded sounds like revenge justice,” Glanz spokesman Terry Simonson said Thursday. “He believes in the justice system to disclose the truth. So he will stay to see that through.”
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