OKLAHOMA (NYTIMES) – Two Oklahoma police officers have been charged with second-degree murder after they used Tasers more than 50 times on a man who later died, according to court records.
The officers, Joshua Taylor, 25, and Brandon Dingman, 34, of the Wilson Police Department, were charged in connection with the death last year of the man, Mr Jared Lakey, 28, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
Wilson is a small town about 160km south of Oklahoma City, near the Texas border.
On July 4, 2019, Taylor and Dingman were responding to a call that involved Mr Lakey’s “acting in a disorderly way”, according to the State Bureau of Investigation.
When Mr Lakey would not comply with the officers’ commands, Taylor and Dingman used their Tasers a combined total of more than 50 times, “which greatly exceeded what would have been necessary or warranted by the attendant circumstances”, court records said.
A Carter County deputy sheriff eventually responded to the scene and was able to help take Mr Lakey into custody, according to the bureau.
Shortly thereafter, Mr Lakey stopped breathing and became unresponsive.
He was taken to a hospital in Healdton, Oklahoma, and then to OU Medical Centre in Oklahoma City, where he died on July 6, 2019.
Court records said that “such dangerous and unnecessary tasing” was a “substantial factor” in bringing about Mr Lakey’s death.
The district attorney’s office issued arrest warrants for Taylor and Dingman on Wednesday, and they turned themselves in on Thursday morning (July 2).
They were booked on one count each of second-degree murder, which is punishable by 10 years to life in prison, according to court records.
Both were released on $250,000 (S$348,450) bonds, according to the State Bureau of Investigation.
“The death of Mr Lakey saddens us all,” Mr Ryan Hunnicutt, who was listed in court records as the lawyer for both Dingman and Taylor, said in an e-mail on Thursday night.
“We are confident that the legal system will provide an opportunity for all the facts to be known and look forward to our day in court.”
Calls to the Wilson Police Department were not immediately returned on Thursday, and it was not immediately clear if Dingman and Taylor were still on the force.
Mr Spencer Bryan, a lawyer for Mr Lakey’s parents, Doug and Cynthia Lakey, said both officers had initially claimed that they used Tasers on Mr Lakey only four times.
He said the charges were appropriate given what was shown on Taylor’s body camera footage, which he said the city of Wilson had allowed him to view.
“I have never seen a more disturbing video,” Mr Bryan said in an e-mail. “After watching it, I cannot understand how the city allowed officers who exhibited such gross recklessness, resulting in a man’s death, to continue working. We have great confidence the evidence supports the charges.”
Mr Bryan said that the Lakey family had filed a public records lawsuit and a federal civil rights lawsuit in connection with Mr Lakey’s death. Both lawsuits are pending.
In the public records lawsuit, filed in September, Mrs Cynthia Lakey is seeking body camera footage, witness statements, photographs and police radio logs.
The lawsuit states that Mr Jared Lakey’s body was riddled with Taser probes and says that medical providers had told the family that Mr Lakey died from multiple heart attacks.
The lawsuit states that radio logs from just before midnight on July 4, 2019, around the time that Mr Lakey was shocked with the Tasers, documented a single report of a man “screaming and running down the road”.
It stated that there was no indication that Mr Lakey had committed a serious offence and no indication that he had threatened Taylor or Dingman.
A debate over the use of Tasers was reignited last month after the fatal police shooting of Mr Rayshard Brooks, a black man who was found asleep in a car in a drive-through at a Wendy’s in Atlanta. Mr Brooks, 27, had fled from the police after failing a sobriety test and grabbed a Taser from an officer during a struggle, the authorities said.
A former Atlanta police officer, Garrett Rolfe, was later charged with murder and aggravated assault in the killing of Mr Brooks. Mr Rolfe’s partner, Devin Brosnan, was charged with three counts, including aggravated assault and violations of oath.
Both Brosnan and Rolfe are white.
In the Oklahoma case, both officers are white, as was the victim, Mr Lakey, Mr Bryan said.
Tasers, also known as stun guns, part of a class of “less lethal” tools, are designed to help law enforcement officers temporarily immobilise people by jolting them with electricity.
Axon Enterprise, which makes the Taser, says the devices save lives and prevent injuries.
But at least 500 people in the US have died since 2001 after being shocked with stun guns during an arrest or while in jail, according to a 2012 statement by Amnesty International, which supports stricter limits on the use of Tasers.
In a 2008 review of hundreds of deaths after stun gun use, Amnesty International found that 90 per cent of those who died had been unarmed.
Most of the deaths were attributed to causes unrelated to stun gun use, but medical examiners listed the devices as a contributing factor in more than 60 deaths, Amnesty International said.
The shock delivered to the chest by a Taser can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden death, according to a 2012 study in the journal Circulation.
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