DA recuses, Pruitt names replacement

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler has asked the state Attorney General to appoint another prosecutor to coordinate any investigation of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and any potential grand jury “in order to protect the integrity of the investigative process.”

On April 2, Tulsa County Sheriff  Reserve Deputy Robert Bates shot and killed Eric Harris. The Tulsa County DA filed second-degree manslaughter charges against Bates.

The release on April 24 of an August 2009 internal affairs memo from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office raised additional concerns beyond the scope of the manslaughter case.

“Since the release of that internal affairs memo by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, my focus has been to request an investigation into the serious issues and allegations raised by that memo. I am satisfied that the investigations I have requested are underway,” Kunzweiler said. “Because the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office has historically provided representation to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office on a number of civil litigation matters,  I am concerned that there could be a perception that my office might have a conflict in directing such an investigation into the internal affairs of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.  In order to protect the integrity of the investigative process and to assure the objectivity of any decisions which may flow from that investigative process, I believe the recusal of my office is necessary.”

Additionally, the appointment of another district attorney will facilitate the coordination of on-going investigations.

“The Attorney General agrees with me that the appointment of another DA to oversee the investigation (and any potential grand jury) is not only proper but consistent with my ethical responsibilities,” Kunzweiler said. “At this point, I do not believe that a recusal of my office is necessary on the criminal case against Robert Bates. The facts of that case are unique to the shooting circumstances which were preserved by a video taken at the time of the shooting.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has reassigned the investigation to Okmulgee County District Attorney Rob Barris. Per statute, the attorney general’s office can reassign investigations once a district attorney recuses.

“My office has been coordinating and communicating regularly with District Attorney Kunzweiler as he assessed what steps were appropriate to investigate allegations of wrongdoing at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office,” Pruitt said. “I appreciate District Attorney Kunzweiler’s assistance as this matter is transitioned to another office. I have confidence District Attorney Barris will be able to conduct a thorough and independent investigation to ensure the interests and concerns of citizens are addressed as it relates to the sheriff’s office.”