Cop Faces Murder Charges for Taser Killing during Arrest
Much of the sensational legal controversy over use of Taser electroshock weapons comes in the dispute over the police department and the manufacturer’s liability over injuries and deaths caused by use of Tasers. The manufacturer, Taser International, continues to claim that its devices are “non-lethal” and that any injuries or deaths that occur are the result of police misuse or brutality or, more often in their opinion, due to “excited delirium” in the victim.
But if the devices are truly “non-lethal,” how could they be misused? The deepest problem with continually repeating the “non-lethal” claim is that those instructed to use Tasers in the line of duty often simply believe that there are no consequences for their actions. Of course, this has been shown time and again to be untrue, as many have died and even more injured as a result of Taser shocks.
Winnfield, Louisiana, officer Scott Nugent is now facing potential murder charges for using a Taser on arrest suspect Baron “Scooter” Pikes, a 21-year-old sawmill worker whose heart failed after Nugent shocked him nine times with a Taser while in custody.
Nugent was significantly smaller than Pikes – around 100 pounds lighter – and with an incapacitated partner who had recently had surgery, the one-on-one struggle to subdue Pikes was difficult. According to police and news reports, this is when Nugent resorted to the Taser.
According to the Taser log – a computer chip that each Taser comes equipped with as a kind of “black box” to provide a recording of uses – Nugent used the Taser six times in three minutes. It was the next Taser jolt, however, that caused the real trouble.
Pikes’ criminal defense attorney, Powell Lexing, recently famous for defending Jena 6 defendant Mychal Bell, states that Nugent used the Taser once again when Pikes was in the back of the squad car, shocking Pikes right in the chest. Pikes was then pulled out of the police cruiser and shocked twice more, when the officers noticed that his body was no longer responding to the electrical shocks. Upon inspection, they discovered that Pikes was dead.
After examination of the body, Dr. Randolph Williams, the medical examiner for Winn Parish, ruled that there was no doubt that Pikes had been murdered. To provide independent verification for his conclusion, Williams brought in two nationally-known forensic pathologists to examine the body as well. Their conclusions were the same.
In fact, Williams believes that Pikes was shocked so excessively that the final two shocks may have been given to a dead man.
Taser International often brings in the claim of “excited delirium” in a death related to a Taser shock, an agitated state that is typically brought on after drug use. However, despite Pikes’ outstanding warrant for possession of cocaine, the examiner found that his body was completely drug-free at the time of death.
The police department also noted that the manufacturer’s instructions indicated that “multiple Tasings do not affect a victim.” Perhaps if the medical research supporting Taser International’s claims wasn’t made by a prominent member of their board of directors, Mark W. Kroll, then it wouldn’t overlook the reality of the matter: Tasers are lethal, and “multiple Tasings” makes the possibility of death much more likely.
There is no word yet if Pikes’ family will file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover some compensation for their loss. But a criminal charge of murder is a strong case that the police officer in question was acting improperly, and could be the basis for strong case against the police department.