Chicago Tribune: Former cop indicted in Taser death in Louisiana

Per Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune:


Ruling in a racially explosive case that some forensic experts have described as police torture, a grand jury in the small Louisiana town of Winnfield indicted a white police officer Wednesday on charges of manslaughter and official malfeasance for repeatedly shocking a handcuffed black suspect with a Taser device, resulting in the man’s death due to cardiac arrest.

After two days of closed testimony, Winn Parish District Atty. Chris Nevils announced that the grand jury had indicted Scott Nugent, 21, for the death in January of Baron “Scooter” Pikes, 21, while in police custody. Two other Winnfield police officers who were present during the incident were not charged.

Nugent, who was fired from the police force in May, could face up to 45 years in prison if convicted on the charges. He surrendered to sheriff’s deputies immediately after the indictment was issued, a spokesman for Nevils said, and a $45,000 bond was set.

“It is our intention to show at trial that Mr. Nugent caused the death of Baron Pikes by ‘Tasing’ him multiple times, unnecessarily and in violation of Louisiana law, and by failing to get him medical attention when it was apparent he needed it,” Nevils said in a statement. “In a civilized society, abuse by those who are given great authority cannot be tolerated.”

Pikes, wanted on a drug possession warrant, was apprehended and handcuffed Jan. 17 after a foot chase. Although Nugent’s police report of the incident stated that Pikes did not resist or struggle after being handcuffed, the officer administered nine 50,000-volt Taser shocks to Pikes’ body after he was slow to respond to Nugent’s order to stand up.

Witnesses said Pikes pleaded with Nugent to stop Tasering him. But within 39 minutes after he was first subdued, Pikes was dead.

Winnfield police claimed that Pikes told them during the incident that he suffered from asthma and was high on PCP and crack cocaine. But Winn Parish Coroner Dr. Randolph Williams found no evidence of such drugs in Pikes’ system or any sign that he suffered from asthma. He ruled Pikes’ death a homicide and noted that Pikes was unconscious when the last two Taser shocks were administered, after he had been loaded into a squad car and delivered to the police station.

Both Williams and Dr. Michael Baden, a nationally prominent forensic pathologist who reviewed the case, said the incident “could be considered to be torture.”

The Pikes’ case, first recounted in the Tribune in July, aroused fears of a cover-up among family members and civil rights groups because Winnfield, the birthplace of Louisiana Govs. Huey and Earl Long, has a long history of political corruption.

Nevils’ predecessor as district attorney committed suicide amid allegations that he had skimmed $200,000 from his office accounts and demanded payoffs from criminal suspects. The former police chief, who was Nugent’s father, also killed himself, after losing a close election campaign marred by fraud allegations. The current police chief was convicted of drug possession as a young man and was pardoned by former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, who is now serving a federal prison sentence for corruption while in office.

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