A grand jury will decide whether to bring murder charges against a police officer.
A grand jury in rural Louisiana considers Tuesday whether to bring murder charges against a Taser-wielding police officer in what may become a seminal case in the hotly debated history of stun guns.
No US jury has ever convicted a police officer in connection with a death related to use of an electroshock weapon. But the number of deaths in which the guns have played a role has been growing, along with their use in law enforcement agencies.
Now, the coroner in Winnfield, La., has found the death of one Baron "Scooter" Pikes to be homicide by Taser, intensifying a simmering controversy over the devices and exposing the tense tug of war between police and young black men in rural Louisiana.
After Winnfield Parish police took Mr. Pikes, who is black, into custody one January morning, a white police officer fired a Taser, jolting Pikes nine times in the span of 14 minutes. Pikes never woke up.
Police said the 21-year-old Pikes was on drugs and uncooperative, but coroner Randolph Williams took a different view. In a report last month, he said he found no signs of a physical struggle, of drugs, or of any medical condition that could have exacerbated the jolts' effect.
As police departments across the US look for nonlethal ways to subdue out-of-control people, a big question is whether such devices reduce violence or, in effect, can increase the likelihood of violence, even torture. The Pikes death is just one case, but it appears to show that the combination of simmering racial tensions and insufficient police training can be lethal when injected with a 50,000-volt jolt.
"If the Taser was indeed the cause of death, this could be an interesting case," says Andrew Scott, former police chief of Boca Raton, Fla., who has testified on the behalf of officers in stun-gun cases. "Given the historical corruption of law enforcement in the area, and the fact that the young man was tased nine times, something is definitely wrong with this picture."
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