Judge in Oklahoma deputy shooting considers recusal

AP News
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Posted: Apr 23, 2015 11:47 AM

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A Tulsa County judge who is assigned to the case of a volunteer deputy accused of manslaughter in the shooting of a restrained suspect is considering whether to recuse himself due to his close ties to the sheriff's office.

In a court filing Wednesday, District Court Judge James Caputo said he worked for the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office for about seven years and that his daughter is an employee there. He was randomly assigned to Robert Bates' case after the 73-year-old reserve deputy was charged with second-degree manslaughter on April 13.

Caputo told the Tulsa World on Wednesday that he hopes to decide by Friday if he will step aside, in an effort to do what is best for the case and the community. The Associated Press left a message with Caputo's office seeking comment Thursday.

Despite his connections to the office, Caputo said no one has asked for him to recuse.

"There's a lot of perceptions out there, and I don't want to be one of them," he told the newspaper.

Bates pleaded not guilty Tuesday in the April 2 death of 44-year-old Eric Harris. Bates has said he confused his handgun and stun gun when he shot Harris, who ran from authorities after a sting investigation involving gun sales.

The case has been much scrutinized, in part due to the close relationship between Sheriff Stanley Glanz and Bates, who is the sheriff's longtime insurance agent and who worked as his 2012 re-election campaign chairman. Bates has also donated vehicles and other equipment to the office. Questions have been raised about whether Bates was properly certified to take part in the sting operation, or to use his own revolver while on duty.

Caputo has known Glanz for 23 years, but they have only had one social engagement, according to court records. The judge said he doesn't have any relationship with Bates, who started with the sheriff's office nearly a decade after Caputo left.

The judge or either party in the case can move for a recusal. Bates' lawyer Corbin Brewster said it is too early to talk about recusal and that it's not even certain that the case will go to trial.

"He did the appropriate thing in light of the intense media scrutiny in this case in disclosing what he did," Brewster said. "I think that was the right thing to do."

Dan Smolen, a lawyer for Harris' family, similarly didn't call on Caputo to step down.

"We trust that (Caputo will) make the best decision to avoid any appearance of impartiality because of his relationship with Sheriff Glanz and others in his office," Smolen said Thursday.