Youth dies as result of Taser abuse

By Larry Hales

On Jan. 17 Baron “Scooter” Pikes, a first cousin of Mychal Bell, one of the Jena 6, died after being taken into police custody in Winnfield, La. At the time of his death, he was a 21-year-old healthy African American. He was officially pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.

The official story given by Scott Nugent, the 21-year-old white arresting officer and the son of a police chief who committed suicide after allegations of fraud, has been refuted by witnesses.

According to the police, when Nugent spotted Pikes, who allegedly had an outstanding warrant for drug possession, Pikes ran, was caught by another officer, and Tased by Nugent in order to be subdued. In Nugent’s report, he claimed that Pikes was handcuffed on the ground and that when Pikes refused to get up, he Tased him. Nugent claimed that Pikes became ill on the way to the station and told the officers he suffered from asthma and was high on PCP and crack cocaine.

All totaled, Scooter Pikes was Tased 9 times within a 14-minute time span. The last two shocks were administered as Pikes was pulled out of the police car. He had gone unconscious before that. The ambulance was called after Pikes slumped over in the chair at the police station.

According to people in a grocery store who were shopping at the time he was apprehended, Pikes pleaded with the officers, “Please, you all got me. Please don’t Tase me again.”

Pikes’ autopsy proved he did not have PCP or crack cocaine in his system and he did not have asthma.

Dr. Randolph Williams, the Winn Parish coroner, ruled the death a homicide and listed the cause of death as “cardiac arrest following nine 50,000-volt electroshock applications from a conductive electrical weapon.” Dr. Michael Baden, a well-known forensic pathologist whom Williams consulted, stated the case could be considered “torture.” (chicagotribune.com, July 19)

The Winnfield Police Department Policy on Taser use is a testament to the criminal use of the device. Their own policy prohibits its use against someone in handcuffs. The makers of the device warn: “minimize repeated, continuous, and/or simultaneous exposures.”

According to CNN, “In the year since Winnfield police received Tasers, officers have used them 14 times, according to police records—with 12 of the instances involving black suspects. Ten of the 14 incidents involved Nugent, who has no public disciplinary record.” Nugent has been fired but has not been charged with Pikes’ killing.

Amnesty International catalogued 152 deaths due to Taser misuse from 2001 to 2006. Dalia Hashad, director of the Domestic Human Rights Program at Amnesty International USA, said, “One-hundred fifty-two deaths tied to a ‘less lethal’ weapon should raise a red flag. …If a dictator mandated the abuse of these weapons, the United States government would be quick to call it torture. But is it any less painful when an American is shocked time and again? U.S. agencies should be concerned about using a tool with a record like this one.”

Many oppressed people are familiar with the common refrain: “He or she was resisting arrest.” It has been used time and again to justify brutal tactics by the police, and often it means simply being a person of color in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The official story told by eyewitnesses and the results from the coroner seem to corroborate what many have long known of the police: that Pikes is another victim of state-sponsored, hired thugs in blue who terrorize and brutalize people in oppressed communities.

The killing of Pikes at the hands of the police is nothing new. Police brutality is rampant throughout racist U.S. society. More and more Taser abuse is responsible for deaths by the police.

The writer is a national leader of Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST). Contact FIST@workers.org.

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