A Florida man could still face charges after he was severely burned when a Florida sheriff’s deputy tasered him at a gas station.
Jean Barreto, 26, was caught in an explosive gas station fire on 27 February after police officers tackled him from his bike while he was filling up his motorcycle, suspecting he was a member of a biker gang that had been called in earlier for harassing other drivers in Orange County.
Attorneys for Mr Barreto demanded justice earlier this week, saying he was “cooked alive” and sustained third-degree burns over 75 per cent of his body when he was tasered by while covered in gasoline.
On Thursday, however, Osceola County Sheriff Marcos López said the deputy, David Crawford, isn’t the only one who should face charges in the incident.
Mr López has recommended that Mr Barreto be charged with fleeing, reckless driving and resisting arrest for acting like a “menace” on local streets.
The sheriff also recommended that Mr Crawford should face a misdemeanour charge for culpable negligence because he knew the area was covered in gas and thus not safe to use a stun gun. The deputy also suffered burns in the fire.
“I believe there was no malice,” Mr López said of Mr Crawford’s actions, according to NBC News. “But under the law his actions were reckless and he held such a disregard for human life” that they support a charge of culpable negligence.
Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell initally said her office will file “appropriate charges” at the conclusion of an investigation. In an update on Friday, she said: “We just received the case package. No decisions have been made regarding this incident.”
Mr Barreto’s attorney, Mark NeJame, condemned the sheriff’s comments and said charging his client would be “retaliatory, unjustified, and vindictive,” WESH reported.
Mr Barreto had been pumping gas for just over a minute when the officers arrived on scene to confront him. One of the Osceola County sheriff’s deputies then tackled the 26-year-old to the ground, according to surveillance video footage from the gas station.
There were at least three other deputy vehicles at the station that were surrounding the man and his dirt bike while he was pinned on the ground before a standing officer then deployed his taser on Mr Barreto.
Seconds later, a fiery explosion can be seen breaking out at the Wawa gas station, surveillance video footage viewed by the Orlando Sentinel shows.
The law office representing the severely burned man said in their release that they have yet to receive body-worn camera footage from the Osceola County Sheriff Office, nor have they been granted access to the incident reports.
The lawyers have also requested the US Department of Justice to open an investigation into the practices and protocols deployed by the sheriff deputies employed by the OCSO, the press release said.
The use of the stun gun was “reckless, foolish, unnecessary and deadly” the lawyers argued in their statement, adding that the “military tactics” used on Mr Barreto did not match the risk he posed since he was not armed at the time of the incident.
Since the fireball explosion back in February, Mr Barreto has had six gruelling surgeries to graft the new skin onto his body.
“He is wrapped and unwrapped in gauze daily, bleeding profusely still as he doesn’t have the requisite amount of skin to contain his body fluids,” his attorneys said in a news release.
The stepmother for Mr Barreto, Frances Aponte, told WFTV in an interview this week that the night her stepson was brutally scorched, he was taken to hospital. But despite doctors telling her that it was unlikely that Mr Barreto would live to see the next morning, she had to demand to see him.
When she was finally permitted to see him, she was not provided with the details surrounding the gas station explosion, nor was she told why there was a deputy standing guard outside his hospital room, WFTV reported.
Its been three months since that first hospital visit, and to this day, Ms Aponte says there still hasn’t been any charges brought against her stepson, nor has he ever been served an arrest warrant for anything involving that February incident with the deputies.
“He’s not going to be the same,” she told the news outlet.
He’s frequently undergone procedures where health practitioners must peel the old skin from his body and he is planning to be placed in a medically induced coma ahead of his next treatment at Orlando Health, the release said.
According to the fire marshal’s report from the explosion, two of the deputies at the scene suffered minor injuries, while a third experienced third-degree burns.
“The most probable cause of the fire was an electric discharge from the deputies deploying a department-issued taser device,” the report said.
The sheriff department had previously released a statement indicating their policy around taser devices, which stipulated that these devices were not to be used on persons operating a motor vehicle or unarmed subjects that “could possibly be seriously injured by secondary factors as a results of CEW activation”, which included flammable substances, WFTV 9 reported.
The Independent reached out to the OCSO for comment on the incident.