Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune is reporting that 21-year old Police Officer Scott Nugent, of Winn Parish in Louisiana, has been indicted in the death of Baron "Scooter" Pikes. Pikes died after being shocked nine times with a Taser, and according to the local coroner, at least twice while he was unconscious. The incident has inflamed racial tensions in the area; Nugent is white, Pikes was black.

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."

Police at the time apparently said that Pikes was high on crack and PCP, but the Coroner said otherwise. The categorization of Tasers as "non-deadly weapons" is somewhat misleading -- even a non-deadly weapon, used excessively, can be lethal. While obviously getting shocked with a Taser is less lethal than being shot, the idea that Tasers seem to be "safer" might encourage overuse, with the idea that an officer can use more force without causing permanent harm. (For more on Tasers and other nonlethal weapons, this article in The New Yorker is worth paying for.) There have been studies that suggest that, used properly, Tasers don't need to have these kinds of tragic results. The two other arresting officers have not been indicted.

I also feel obligated to share the political history of the Parish, as outlined by Witt:

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.

Sounds like the plot of a Coen Brothers movie.


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