An Oklahoma sheriff who allegedly tried to cover up the insufficient training of a deputy who shot an unarmed black man is resigning amid legal questions over his actions.
Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz announced he would resign Wednesday afternoon, just hours after a grand jury indicted him on two counts of official misconduct. It was perhaps the first example this year of a ranking law enforcement official being criminally charged over a shooting by one of his subordinates.
The indictments stemmed from an undercover gun buy on April 2, when Robert Bates, a volunteer deputy on the Sheriff's staff, fatally shot Eric Harris, an unarmed African-American man. Bates later said he confused his handgun and his taser.
Bates, a 73-year-old retired insurance executive, was part of a sting operation investigating illegal gun sales. In video of the shooting released by Tulsa police that quickly went viral, Bates can be heard saying, "Oh, I shot him, I'm sorry."
Questions immediately rose about why the sheriff's office had put a gun in Bates' hands. Bates and Glanz were longtime friends, and Bates had donated $2,500 to Glanz's re-election campaign, as well as cars and equipment to the Sheriff's department. The two men had traveled to visit each other's homes in Colorado and Florida, said Attorney Scott Wood, who is representing Glanz.
The volunteer reserve deputy program—which is common in sheriff's departments around the country—lets locals become law enforcement officers, but only after extensive training. After the shooting, the Tulsa World published an internal sheriff's office report from 2009 showing that Bates had not undergone the required 480 hours of field training before he was made a deputy. Officials in Glanz's office had allegedly falsified his training documents and overruled supervisors who deemed Bates not ready to serve, the report found.
This summer, a grand jury has been investigating Glanz and the sheriff's department. The jury heard testimony that Glanz told his subordinates to “keep your mouth shut” and “if I was you, I wouldn’t talk about this," according to the World. After Bates failed a gun training, Glanz told instructors to “take it easy” and “pass him,” the jury was told.
The jury indicted Glanz yesterday for refusing to perform his official duties by not releasing the internal investigation, as well as for misusing a vehicle stipend—both criminal misdemeanors. (A third indictment is still sealed.) They also made suggestions for reforms to the department's training procedures.
Wood said his client would plead not guilty to both charges at his arraignment next month, and is resignation isn't an admission of guilt. "He testified to the grand jury, and… if it was their wish that he resign, he promised them that he would do that," Wood told me. "He kept his promise and stepped down."
Glanz, who had long denied any cover-up, had believed that Bates had received the required training, according to Wood. "You depend on the people beneath you to be reporting back to you and doing the right thing," Wood said. "Everything always looks much different in hindsight."
Dan Smolen, the attorney representing Harris' family, told the World that they were pleased with the indictments. “We will not rest until the whole truth is known about what happened to Eric," he said.
Glanz has been the Tulsa sheriff since 1989, and has been re-elected seven times. "It's disappointing to him to end his career on a note like this," Wood said.
Meanwhile, Bates has been charged with second-degree manslaughter for the shooting. He has pled not guilty; his trial begins in February. And Warren Crittenden, the deputy who signed off on his training, is now in jail on a separate first-degree murder charge.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.