Originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on August 14, 2008.
Ruling in a racially explosive case that some forensic experts have described as police torture, a grand jury in the small Louisiana town of Winnfield indicted a white former police officer Wednesday on charges of manslaughter and official malfeasance for repeatedly shocking a handcuffed black suspect with a Taser, resulting in the man’s death due to cardiac arrest.
After two days of closed testimony, Winn Parish District Atty. Chris Nevils announced that the grand jury had in-dicted Scott Nugent, 21, in the January death of Baron “Scooter” Pikes, 21, while in police custody. Two other Winnfield police officers who were present during the incident were not charged.
Nugent, who was fired from the police force in May, could face up to 45 years in prison if convicted on the charges. He surrendered to sheriff’s deputies immediately after the indictment was issued, a spokesman for Nevils said, and a $45,000 bond was set.
“In a civilized society, abuse by those who are given great authority cannot be tolerated,” Nevils said.
Pikes, wanted on a drug possession warrant, was apprehended and handcuffed Jan. 17 after a foot chase. Although Nugent’s police report stated that Pikes did not resist after being handcuffed, the officer administered nine 50,000-volt Taser shocks to Pikes after he was slow to respond to Nugent’s order to stand up.
Winnfield police said that Pikes told them during the incident that he suffered from asthma and was high on PCP and crack cocaine. But Winn Parish Coroner Dr. Randolph Williams found no evidence of disease or drugs in Pikes’ system. He ruled the death a homicide.
Both Williams and Dr. Michael Baden, a nationally prominent forensic pathologist who reviewed the case, said the incident “could be considered to be torture.”