Report: Tulsa sheriff's office had 'system-wide failure'

The scathing, 238-page report said protocols throughout the agency were not clear, with many judgment decisions made


Associated Press

TULSA, Okla. — Consultants hired to review an Oklahoma sheriff's office after a friend of the sheriff's shot an unarmed suspect while working as a reserve deputy concluded Thursday that the agency suffered from a "system-wide failure of leadership and supervision."

The Community Safety Institute of Ovilla, Texas, said that, under Sheriff Stanley Glanz, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office had been in a "perceptible decline" for more than a decade. Shortcomings in its reserve deputy program were just the most-visible signs of trouble within the agency, it said.

The scathing, 238-page report said protocols throughout the agency were not clear, with many judgment decisions made on the fly. Standards on when deadly force could be used were incomplete and confusing, and the agency followed no set policy to review incidents once they occurred.

"The reserve program with its disregard for proper policies, procedures, supervision, and administrative controls was simply the most visible manifestation of a system-wide failure of leadership and supervision," the report said.

Former reserve deputy Robert Bates has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge filed after Eric Harris was killed last April on a Tulsa street. Bates has said he mistakenly pulled a handgun while reaching for a stun gun.

The sheriff's office said it will comment next week.

Weeks after Harris was killed, an internal memo from 2009 was released by the attorney of Harris' family questioning Bates' qualifications. Bates is a close friend of Glanz and donated thousands of dollars in cash, vehicles and equipment to the agency. The agency memo alleged that superiors knew Bates didn't have enough training but pressured others to look the other way because of his relationship with the sheriff and the agency.

Dan Smolen, an attorney for the Harris family who released the 2009 memo to reporters, said Thursday the outside review highlights "years of policy violations at the sheriff's office (that) have had real and tragic consequences in the lives of ordinary citizens."

"It continues to be our hope that the next sheriff will fill the leadership void and undo the significant damage that has been done," Smolen said Thursday.

The release of the memo led thousands of citizens to sign a petition last summer calling for a grand jury to investigate the sheriff's office and its alleged mismanagement.

In September, jurors indicted Glanz, accusing him of failing to release the 2009 internal report, among other accusations. Glanz faces two misdemeanor charges as a result of the indictment and resigned effective Nov. 1. A special primary election to pick a new sheriff to serve the rest of Glanz's term is Tuesday.

Scott Wood, an attorney for Glanz, declined to comment on the report late Thursday, saying he had been traveling out of state and had not yet read it.

Along with the indictment, jurors also issued recommendations on how the sheriff's office could improve record-keeping and transparency, including creating an anonymous reporting system for employees to feel more at ease about flagging potential wrongdoing and the creation of a records unit.

Some of the jurors' suggestions have already been implemented at the agency, and those concerns were included in the final report, interim sheriff Michelle Robinette told The Associated Press earlier this month. Robinette plans to address the findings of the report Monday, agency spokesman Justin Green said Thursday.

The CSI report recommended that additional people report to future Tulsa sheriffs so they would have a broader understanding of what was happening under their watch.

"The current organization chart of the TCSO has only one individual in the chain of command — the undersheriff — reporting directly to the sheriff. This creates the potential of the sheriff being isolated from other members of the chain of command and being unaware of issues that might arise," the report said. It suggested that the agency add a chief of staff and a lawyer who would work independently of one another.

After Harris died, questions arose quickly about whether Bates had been adequately trained and whether his longtime friendship with Glanz influenced how much freedom he had. At times, Bates patrolled the county alone.

"Many reserves feel they are exempt from or do not have to follow various policies because of who they are or who they are friends with in the agency," the report said. "This informal system violates all chain of command within the organization and undermines the supervisor's authority, causing dissent within the organization."

The broad-reaching report criticized the department for not having a set policy for the use of deadly force.

In the Harris incident, Bates was providing backup during a gun-sales sting involving Harris. As Harris fled officers, Bates yelled "Taser!" before firing a single shot, saying later that he thought he was drawing his stun gun when in fact he drew his handgun.

"Currently the policies regarding the TCSO response to the use of deadly force are complicated and confusing and the TCSO use of deadly force training is ineffective. The process of investigating the use of deadly force is convoluted and hard to follow as it is currently written in policy," it said.

Robinette has said the review's findings will determine the future of the roughly 120-member reserve deputy corps. The program was suspended after Harris was killed.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

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