By Lenzy Krehbiel-Buston
TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) - The reserve deputy who fatally shot an unarmed man was justified in his intended use of force, a defense attorney said in opening statements in his trial on Wednesday, as prosecutors said his actions warranted a conviction on manslaughter charges.
Robert Bates, 74, a white insurance executive who volunteered as a reserve deputy, is charged with second-degree manslaughter in the killing an unarmed man, Eric Harris. Harris, 44, was fleeing from deputies last April in Tulsa during a sting targeting illegal gun sales. If convicted, Bates faces up to four years in prison.
Bates mistakenly thought he had a Taser in hand instead of a gun when he shot Harris, investigators have said.
Bates is white and Harris was African-American. The shooting, captured on video, was one in a series that raised questions of racial bias in U.S. policing
"This was a proper use of force," defense attorney Clark Brewster told jurors. "He was justified using a Taser. There was no question he thought he had a Taser."
He also said sheriff's deputies who were with Bates bore some responsibility for the deadly incident.
Prosecutors said Bates' actions were tantamount to professional negligence and led to an unarmed man being killed. The trial is expected to take about two weeks, the trial lawyers have said.
In the video played in the media and in court on Wednesday, as a Tulsa County deputy subdues Harris, a voice identified as Bates' says, "Taser, Taser." A gunshot is then heard.
A man Oklahoma authorities identified as Bates is heard saying "Oh, I shot him. I'm sorry."
Harris is heard screaming, "He shot me. Oh my God."
A deputy replies, telling Harris to "shut up," and shouts a profanity at him.
Harris, who said in the video he was having trouble breathing, later died at a Tulsa hospital.
The incident prompted the suspension of the reserve deputy program, a grand jury investigation of the sheriff's department and the Nov. 1 resignation of Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz.
(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton, writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by David Gregorio)