July 28, 2008
By Howard Witt, Chicago Tribune
HOUSTON - Seeking to defuse growing racial tensions in the small Louisiana town of Winnfield, the local district attorney announced Monday that he will seek an indictment against a white police officer for the death of a black man who was shocked nine times with a Taser device while handcuffed in police custody.
Winn Parish District Atty. Chris Nevils said he would convene a grand jury Aug. 12 to consider possible charges against the officer, Scott Nugent, 21, who was fired from the Winnfield Police Department following the death of Baron "Scooter" Pikes.
Pikes, 21, died Jan. 17 within 39 minutes of being arrested on a drug possession warrant. Winnfield police claimed Pikes told them he suffered from asthma and was high on crack cocaine and PCP, but the local coroner found that Pikes had been healthy and had no drugs in his system. He ruled the death a homicide.
"Now is the time to take this case to the grand jury for a determination about whether charges should be brought," Nevils said in a statement. "I know there are strong feelings on both sides of this matter. But my obligation, and that of the grand jury, is to objectively sort through the facts and make a decision that is in the best interest of justice. That is what we intend to do."
Nevils' decision came a little more than a week after the Tribune published the first full account of the case amid fears expressed by the victim's family and civil rights groups that the incident would be covered up in a town with a florid history of backroom dealings and political corruption.
Nevils' predecessor as district attorney committed suicide after he came under suspicion for skimming $200,000 from his office accounts and extorting bribes from criminal suspects. The former police chief, who was Nugent's father, also killed himself, after losing a bitterly-contested election campaign marred by fraud allegations. The current police chief is a convicted drug offender who was pardoned by former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, who is currently serving a federal prison sentence for corruption while in office.
In his own written report of the Pikes' incident, Nugent acknowledged that he had subdued and handcuffed Pikes after a foot chase and that Pikes had not struggled or resisted arrest. Instead, Nugent wrote, he began Tasering Pikes after the suspect did not respond quickly enough to Nugent's order to stand up and walk to a waiting police car.
Witnesses reported that Pikes had pleaded with Nugent and two other arresting officers to stop Tasering him.
Nugent's attorney has said the former officer acted according to police procedures. But the Winnfield Police Department's written Taser policy states that the device should only be used "where it is deemed reasonably necessary to control a dangerous or violent subject."
Dr. Randolph Williams, the Winn Parish coroner, determined after investigating the death that Nugent administered a total of nine 50,000-volt Taser shocks to Pikes over a 14-minute period-and that the last two jolts were delivered after Pikes had lost consciousness.
Nevils would not reveal the range of possible charges he will ask the grand jury to consider against Nugent.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Monday, July 28, 2008
July 28, 2008