TULSA, OK - The police say it's meaningless, but many casual observers are appalled after hearing an Oklahoma police deputy tell a dying man who'd just been shot, "F**k your breath."
Video of Eric Courtney Harris' final moments on April 2 -- following an undercover weapons sting and a foot chase -- shows Tulsa County Reserve Deputy Robert Bates announcing he is going to deploy his Taser but then shooting Harris in the back with a handgun.
Bates immediately apologizes, saying, "I shot him. I'm sorry."
Harris, who is bleeding, calls out. He's been shot and didn't do anything, he says.
An officer yells at him, "You f**king ran! Shut the f**k up!"
"Oh my God, I'm losing my breath," Harris cries as a deputy's knee pins his head to the asphalt.
"F**k your breath," an officer tells him.
Police have painted Harris as a dangerous, possibly PCP-addled illegal gun dealer who had recently sold methamphetamine to undercover police and who fled police that day in such a way as to give the impression that he had a gun in his waistband.
Though Harris was later determined to be unarmed, Sgt. Jim Clark of the Tulsa Police Department, who has been brought in to review the case, excused the behavior of Bates and the officer who is heard cursing at Harris.
Bates, who was also one of the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office's benefactors, was the "victim" of something called "slip and capture," where in a high-stress situation, a person intends to do one thing and instead does something else, Clark said.
"Reserve Deputy Bates did not commit a crime. Reserve Deputy Bates was a victim, a true victim of slips and capture, " he said. "There's no other determination I could come to."
The officer or officers heard cursing at Harris were also influenced by the stress of the apprehension, according to Capt. Bill McKelvey of the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, who said that even though they can be heard replying to Harris' cries, they did not hear the gunshot or Harris' repeated assertion that he'd been shot.
"They did not know that he was shot at this time," McKelvey said. "They had audio exclusion. They was at a point where they couldn't hear. They didn't even hear the gunshot go off. The officers did not know that Mr. Harris had been shot."
Clark added that the language used by the officer was a product of stress and in no way should have any bearing on whether the shooting was justified.