November 9, 2021 12:45:51 pm
Written by Neil Vigdor
Two former Oklahoma police officers were convicted on Friday of second-degree murder for using their Tasers a total of more than 50 times on an unarmed man who later died in 2019, according to court records.
Prosecutors said the repeated use of the Tasers, also known as stun guns, by the former officers, Brandon Dingman and Joshua Taylor, was “dangerous and unnecessary” during their encounter with Jared Lakey on July 4, 2019.
It was a “substantial factor” in the death of Lakey, 28, who stopped breathing and became unresponsive shortly after he was taken into custody by the officers, who were employed by the Wilson Police Department, court documents said. Lakey died two days later.
The case brought further scrutiny to the use of Tasers by law enforcement officers. Supporters say the devices are a practical alternative to often-lethal firearms, but critics point out they have contributed to many fatalities.
In addition to second-degree murder, which is punishable by 10 years to life in prison, Dingman, 35, and Taylor, 27, were found guilty of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon by a jury in Carter County, Oklahoma, according to court records. They are to be sentenced on Dec. 2.
Shannon McMurray, a lawyer for Dingman, said Monday that the former officer planned to appeal his conviction.
Citing a medical examiner’s autopsy report, she said that Lakey had an enlarged heart and critical coronary artery disease before he died. The report listed the officers’ use of electrical weapons and restraint as contributing to Lakey’s death.
“It’s just a tragedy for everybody,” McMurray said. “In my opinion, they acted within policy.”
McMurray said that the officers had been trying to avoid using other types of force on Lakey. “They were truly, truly concerned for his safety and theirs if they had gone hands-on,” she said.
Warren Gotcher, a lawyer for Taylor, said Monday that his client would also file an appeal.
“We’re very disappointed in the verdict,” said Gotcher, who also pointed to Lakey’s health as playing a significant role in his death. “No one could look at him and tell that he had that much of a diseased heart.”
The Police Department in Wilson, which is about 100 miles south of Oklahoma City, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A lawsuit filed by Lakey’s family said that his body was riddled with Taser probes and that medical providers had told the family that he died from multiple heart attacks.
Spencer Bryan, a lawyer for Lakey’s parents, Doug and Cynthia Lakey, said in a statement Monday that they were “grateful to the jury and prosecution for taking these officers off the streets,” but admonished the police chief over his explanation during the trial about why the officers had kept using their Tasers.
The chief, Kevin Coley, testified that the officers had been attempting to cause neuromuscular incapacitation in Lakey but that he had kept moving around on the ground, the television station KXII reported. The chief could not be reached Monday.
During the officers’ encounter with Lakey, they were responding to a call that involved his “acting in a disorderly way,” according to the State Bureau of Investigation.
When 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.
The records said that “such dangerous and unnecessary” use of the Tasers was a “substantial factor” in bringing about Lakey’s death.
Craig Ladd, the district attorney for the 20th Judicial District in Oklahoma, which includes Carter County, said Monday that police officers were trained to limit Taser exposure to 15 seconds or less and to avoid simultaneously using their devices. But in the case of Lakey, he said, the electrical connection from the officers’ Tasers lasted 3 minutes and 14 seconds.
“They clearly failed to adhere to these safety guidelines,” Ladd said, adding that in Oklahoma, officers are only permitted to use the degree of force “reasonably necessary” under the circumstances.
“They Tased Jared because he was lying naked in a ditch and wouldn’t put his hands behind his back when they asked him to, even though it wasn’t clear whether Jared truly understood what was going on or what he was being requested to do,” he said. “He never made any aggressive moves towards the officers, swung at them, lunged at them, or kicked at them.”
Tasers, which are part of a class of “less lethal” tools, are designed to help law enforcement officers temporarily immobilize a person by jolting them with electricity.
Axon Enterprise, which makes them, says the devices save lives and prevent injuries. But more than 1,000 people in the United States have died after being shocked with stun guns by police, according to a 2017 investigation by Reuters.
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