A felon inadvertently shot and killed by a reserve deputy was “uncooperative and combative” as firefighters attempted to render aid to him before he went into cardiac arrest, according to a Tulsa Fire Department report.
However, attorney Dan Smolen disagrees with that characterization and also says the report calls into question statements made by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office about Eric Courtney Harris.
The Sheriff’s Office submitted to prosecutors Friday the case of Reserve Deputy Robert Charles “Bob” Bates fatally shooting Harris during an undercover gun deal April 2 in the parking lot of the Dollar General store at 1906 N. Harvard Ave.
In a news conference Friday, expert witness and Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark said he investigated the matter at the request of the Sheriff’s Office. Clark determined Bates, 73, committed no crime when he fired his .38-caliber pistol once instead of the Taser he meant to deploy, even referring to him as a “victim.” There also were no policy violations, Clark said.
Smolen, who is representing Harris’ family, called the news conference “premature and ill-advised.”
Tulsa Fire Department Patient Care Record documents provided to the Tulsa World by attorney Smolen offer insight into the minutes that firefighters on scene were attempting to speak with and treat Harris, 44.
The Fire Department couldn’t confirm the records, citing HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Narrative in the report states the gunshot wound to the right upper back/shoulder of Harris wasn’t bleeding much, appearing to have clotted by the time firefighters arrived and tried to evaluate him. To better check vital signs, a deputy laid down Harris, who was sitting upright, and took off his handcuffs. Harris’ ankles then were cuffed and firefighters again tried to assess him.
“The (patient) was very combative physically, and we were unable to get him to hold still long enough to get any accurate vitals,” the report reads.
The report further states that firefighters tried to communicate with Harris but he “ignored most all questions,” the only information gleaned was his name from a credit card and an age he told them.
He soon was transferred to EMSA’s care at which point the narrative indicates his condition began to deteriorate.
“He became unresponsive and eventually went into cardiac arrest,” according to the report, which also states firefighters began to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.
There are two critical things to take from the report that are inconsistent with what the Sheriff’s Office has released, Smolen said.
The first, he noted, is that deputies couldn’t have been rendering aid to Harris as he sat with his hands cuffed behind his back.
“Because of the position that he was in, nobody could have been rendering any aid to him,” Smolen said. “That’s why the Fire Department had to order him to be unhandcuffed and laid down before they could start CPR.”
Asked if the clotting of the wound was indicative of receiving treatment, Smolen said the question would be best answered by a doctor.
Tulsa County sheriff’s Maj. Shannon Clark said there is only so much deputies can do for a gunshot victim without access to equipment in an ambulance and medical professionals.
Deputies applied pressure to Harris’ wound, Clark said, and they also sat him up so he could breathe more easily because he complained he was having difficulties breathing. He was deemed a threat by deputies, who still believed him to be armed, so he remained in cuffs, Clark said.
“He was conscious and alert, and we were trying to make him as comfortable as possible,” Clark said.
Secondly, Smolen said it’s counterintuitive that Harris would be combative because his labored breathing and cuffed hands while sitting would make that “impossible.”
“It’s most likely the word combative is being used because that’s what they’re being told by the Sheriff’s Office,” Smolen said. “The other alternative is their use of the word combative is more a description of Mr. Harris struggling to get air and kind of writhing in pain from the gunshot wound.”
Clark said the video released by the Sheriff’s Office clearly shows Harris continued to resist deputies until they had him detained.
“Once the hands went behind his back and were secured, there was no more resistance,” Clark said.
Smolen also calls into question statements from the Sheriff’s Office asserting Harris admitted to medical personnel that he was on a drug called PCP.
The Fire Department report makes no direct mention of PCP. In a section on spinal immobilization, “Yes” is typed in a field for evidence of alcohol or drug impairment. However, on the report’s front page under clinical impressions “Unknown” is typed next to the alcohol/drugs question.
Smolen said he has reviewed all EMSA, St. John Medical Center and Fire Department records he has obtained and found no references to PCP.
So if Harris had admitted to medical personnel he was on PCP, would that be reflected in the Fire Department report’s narrative?
“Of course it would,” he responded. “You don’t think a medical professional is (not) going to document that?”
Clark said several deputies overheard Harris admit to medical personnel that he was on PCP. Clark said it wasn’t a question deputies asked him and the overheard statement is reflected in Sheriff’s Office reports submitted to the district attorney.
“We are not interested in playing this entire case out in the court of public opinion,” Clark said, adding that if Smolen feels there are issues surrounding the situation, he can pursue legal recourse.