TULSA, Okla. – The reserve deputy program at an Oklahoma sheriff's office that has been under scrutiny since a volunteer fatally shot an unarmed man should be shut down after an audit found the agency suffered from a "system-wide failure of leadership and supervision," the interim sheriff said Thursday.
Tulsa County Interim Sheriff Michelle Robinette told The Associated Press she will recommend ending the program, which has roughly 120 members. She said scrapping the reserve corps would be the only way to ensure future reserve deputies are properly trained.
Robinette said if the program is ever reinstated, all volunteer deputies should be required to reapply.
"It's the only way to keep it clean," she said Thursday.
However, a final decision on the future of the program lies with incoming sheriff, who will take office next month after a special election.
The reserve program has been suspended since volunteer deputy Robert Bates fatally shot Eric Harris during a gun-sales sting last April.
Bates, who was a friend of ex-Sheriff Stanley Glanz and donated thousands of dollars in cash and equipment to the agency, resigned after the shooting. He has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge, saying he mistakenly pulled a handgun while reaching for a stun gun. Bates goes to trial next month.
Weeks after Harris was killed, an internal memo from 2009 that questions Bates' qualifications was released by the Harris family's attorney. The agency memo indicates superiors knew Bates didn't have enough training for the position but pressured others to look the other way because of his relationship with the sheriff and the agency.
Attorney Dan Smolen, who released the memo, welcomed the recommendation to shutter the program.
"The reserve program obviously needs a complete overhaul," Smolen said. "If the reserve program is to be resurrected, that should only be done under completely new leadership with permanent and genuine reforms in place."
Smolen's 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 on two misdemeanor charges. He resigned effective Nov. 1. The former sheriff is due back in court on March 11.
Robinette also announced plans Thursdays for sweeping changes at the sheriff's office to address the findings of the outside review, which determined that the Tulsa agency has been in "perceptible decline" for more than a decade.
Robinette says the office plans to buy a new records management system and create new positions, including training director, open records manager and a community engagement supervisor.