Trial starts for ex-cop accused in TASER death
Related article: Former La. cop charged in TASER death
By Michael Kunzelman
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — A grand jury in central Louisiana will consider criminal charges against a former police officer who is accused of jolting a handcuffed man nine times with a TASER before the suspect died, a prosecutor said Monday.
Winn Parish District Attorney Chris Nevils said the grand jury was scheduled to convene Aug. 12 to begin hearing evidence in the death of Baron Pikes, 21.
Pikes was repeatedly shocked with a 50,000-volt TASER as he was arrested on a drug posession warrant on Jan. 17. A coroner ruled the death was a homicide. Former Winnfield police officer Scott Nugent has acknowledged using the device on Pikes, Nevils said.
Nugent's lawyer, Phillip Terrell, said he isn't surprised that Nevils wants a grand jury sort through the facts.
"Under the circumstances, it was not an unnecessary use of force, and he followed the protocols of the Winnfield Police Department," Terrell said of his client.
Carol Powell Lexing, a lawyer for Pikes' relatives, said the family welcomes the grand jury's probe. "That's a step in the right direction," she said.
Nevils office received a copy of a state police report Friday on Pikes' death, but he said information that his office gathered "independently" also factored into his decision to take the case to a grand jury.
Powell Lexing has accused police of trying to cover up what she called a racially motivated case of police brutality. Pikes was black; Nugent is white. Pikes fled when Nugent and another officer approached, but he didn't try to resist arrest after the officers caught up to him, according to Powell Lexing.
Winn Parish coroner Randolph Williams said all nine of the TASER shocks came after Pikes was handcuffed. He didn't have any "pain or neuromuscular response" to the last two shocks, Williams added.
"It's an indication he was physiologically unable to respond to the electroshocks," the coroner said. "I don't know that he was unconscious."
Police initially said Pikes told officers that he had asthma and had taken crack cocaine and PCP, according to Powell Lexing. However, Williams said he only found a small quantity of marijuana in Pikes' system and didn't see any evidence that he suffered from asthma.
"All of that stuff was fabricated," Powell Lexing said.
Nugent was fired in May, but is appealing.
Winnfield is about 40 miles northwest of Jena, the site of a massive civil rights protest last year. Thousands demonstrators gathered in Jena to protest the cases against six black teenagers charged with beating a white student at a high school.