Interim sheriff: Okla. reserve deputy program's return undecided

Not having reserve deputies, who volunteer at numerous events, would dent morale and budget

By Justin Juozapavicius
Associated Press

TULSA, Okla. — The fate of an Oklahoma county's reserve deputy program is still undecided after a member fatally shot an unarmed man last April, the agency's third sheriff in four months said Wednesday.

Interim Tulsa County Sheriff Michelle Robinette, who took over the new role this week, told The Associated Press that the future of the roughly 120-member reserve corps will be determined after the completion of an outside review by a firm hired to examine how the agency is run. The review will be done by the end of the month, she said.

Fourteen reserves left the volunteer program by October. Robinette said she doesn't know how many more have departed since then but that there have been "a lot of resignations and retirements."

Not having reserve deputies, who volunteer at numerous events, would dent morale and potentially the agency's budget, she said.

"We provide security for a lot of different events in the county, and I don't have the reserves to send out there and I don't have the (full-time) people to pull off their shifts to cover it," Robinette said. "I'm kind of stuck because we're not going to get deputies to volunteer to do it on their own time. That's what the reserves did. That's what they had fun doing."

Robinette, who has been with the agency nearly 21 years, will be interim sheriff until April, when a new sheriff will take over after a special election.

The reserve program was suspended after volunteer deputy Robert Bates fatally shot an unarmed Eric Harris last April. Bates, who left the agency after the shooting, says he confused his stun gun and handgun and has pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter.

Shortly after Harris was killed, an attorney for his family released an internal 2009 sheriff's office memo that questioned the field training of Bates. The memo, given to news reporters, said officials at the agency knew that Bates was inadequately trained but pressured other officers to look away.

The shooting and the release of the memo led to a grand jury investigation of the office. Jurors indicted Sheriff Stanley Glanz in September, accusing him of failing to release the internal report. Glanz faces two misdemeanor charges as a result of the indictment and resigned effective Nov. 1.

Jurors also recommended ways the sheriff's office could improve record-keeping and transparency. Robinette said Wednesday that many of those suggestions have been implemented, including an anonymous reporting system for employees and the creation of a records unit.

"(The recommendations) are important, and I think they're for the betterment of the agency," Robinette said.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

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