A former police officer accused of repeatedly jolting a handcuffed man with a Taser before he died was indicted on a manslaughter charge Wednesday by a grand jury in central Louisiana.
The Winn Parish grand jury also indicted former Winnfield police officer Scott Nugent on a charge of malfeasance in office stemming from the Jan. 17 death of Baron Pikes, 21.
Pikes was shocked nine times with a 50,000-volt Taser as he was arrested on a drug possession warrant in January, authorities said. Winn Parish District Attorney Chris Nevils said Nugent broke the law when he "unnecessarily" used the Taser on Pikes multiple times and failed to get him medical attention "when it was apparent he needed it."
"In a civilized society, abuse by those who are given great authority cannot be tolerated," Nevils said in a statement.
Nugent, who is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 21, faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the manslaughter charge. The malfeasance charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Nugent was fired but is appealing his dismissal. Phillip Terrell, Nugent's lawyer, has said his client followed department protocols and didn't use excessive force. Terrell didn't immediately return a call for comment Wednesday evening.
Carol Powell Lexing, a lawyer for Pikes' family, called the indictments "just one step toward justice."
Anger over Pikes' death has threatened to inflame racial tensions in Winnfield, where the population of roughly 5,800 is evenly divided between black and white residents. Pikes was black; Nugent is white.
The episode also has drawn comparisons to the so-called "Jena Six" case, which thrust a neighboring city in the national spotlight.
Winnfield is about 40 miles northwest of Jena, the site of a massive civil rights protest last year. Thousands of demonstrators gathered there to protest criminal cases against six black teenagers charged with beating a white student at a high school.
Officials don't want spectacle
State Sen. Gerald Long, a Winnfield native and third cousin of legendary former Gov. Huey Long, expressed confidence that community leaders won't allow the fallout from Pikes' death to divide the city along racial lines.
"We pray that it will not become a spectacle comparable to what took place in Jena," Long said. "Is it an explosive situation that can create a backlash? Sure, but that's not what I see."
Lawrence Spikes, a minister who ran unsuccessful campaigns for mayor of Winnfield in 2002 and 2006, said Pikes' death reinforces his view that abuse of power is a persistent problem in the city.
"This has been going on for a while," said Spikes, who is black. "It's not just blacks being abused. It's whites being abused, too."
On Monday, the mother of Pikes' 4-year-old son filed a wrongful-death suit in federal court against city officials, Nugent and Taser International Inc. The suit accuses city officials of civil rights violations in Pikes' death.