Oklahoma reserve deputy pleads not guilty in shooting death

By Heide Brandes OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - An Oklahoma reserve deputy pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in the death of a man he said he accidentally shot with a gun instead of a Taser, a Tulsa County District Court clerk said on Tuesday. Robert Bates, 73, an insurance executive who serves as a volunteer deputy with the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the April 2 death of Eric Harris, 44. Bates, who appeared in court on Tuesday for an arraignment, could face two to four years in prison if convicted. "We are looking forward to trying this case in court and we believe he has a defensible case," Bates' attorney, Corbin Brewster, said in a telephone interview. The death of Harris was the latest in a series of fatal shootings of black men that have fueled a national debate about police treatment of minorities. Bates is white and Harris black. Bates fatally shot Harris when he tried to help officers subdue the suspect, who had fled after allegedly trying to sell a gun illegally to an undercover officer. On Friday, Bates apologized to Harris' family in an interview on NBC's "Today" show, saying he mistakenly fired his gun instead of his Taser. He denied a Tulsa World newspaper report that he was not properly trained and records were falsified. Bates said the portrayal of him as a close friend of the sheriff who was rewarded for his financial support with the law enforcement position is "unbelievably unfair." Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz apologized on Monday to Harris' family and acknowledged a long-time friendship with Bates, who he said had been his insurance agent. Glanz defended Bates' training record and qualifications, and his involvement in the operation. Glanz denied Bates' training records were falsified and said the office was looking for missing documents and would release them as they are found. The sheriff also said two deputies involved in the incident have been reassigned after receiving threats and the department would review national standards for reserve officers. (Reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Susan Heavey and Bill Trott)

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