A 26-year-old Florida man is fighting for his life after he was ‘cooked alive’ when a deputy sheriff’s Taser ignited a fire at a gas pump, burning more than 75% of his body, say the victim’s lawyers on Wednesday.
Three MPs were also injured in the February incident – including one who suffered burns to half his body – lawyers at NeJame Law firm said in a statement detailing the horror.
The attorneys want the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to resume the investigation of the incident and for the U.S. Department of Justice to review the protocols and practices of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office as a whole.
Jean Barreto was returning home from a gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts on Feb. 27 after Osceola County deputies dissolved them, NeJame Law said in a statement.
Barreto, a FedEx employee with no criminal record, stopped at a gas station in Wawa to refuel his dirt bike.
No sooner had he filled the tank than he was ‘slammed from behind with a flying tackle’ by an Osceola County sheriff’s deputy he never saw coming, the law firm’s statement said. .
Unbeknownst to Barreto, the deputy ‘had been following him secretly’ and proceeded to ‘butt-run’ the bike enthusiast before he even had a chance to clog his gas tank afterwards. the pumping, according to the lawyers.
The tackle knocked Barreto and the bike to the ground. The gas spread over Barreto and the deputy. Three other deputies showed up in separate vehicles.
Seeing Barreto and the deputy on the ground, one of the arriving deputies deployed his Taser on Barreto, “engulfing almost his entire body in flames and about half of the other deputy.” [body] as well,” the NeJame law firm said.
“This fireball, caused by the reckless, senseless, unnecessary and deadly tasing, led to the horrific explosion, engulfing them both and injuring two other deputies with minor burns,” the lawyers said.
Ten weeks later, Barreto remains hospitalized, virtually skinless, in excruciating pain and under constant treatment, according to his lawyers. He underwent at least six surgeries and was placed in an induced coma twice.
Last Thursday, the Florida State Fire Marshal ruled that the Taser caused the gas station fire. Lawyers accused Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez and his department of withholding information, including body camera footage and reports from deputies.
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This all happened outside the Osceola County Sheriff’s jurisdiction, since the Wawa gas station was 5 miles from neighboring Orange County, the attorneys said.
At most, deputies could have charged Barreto with “traffic violations and possible misdemeanors”, the lawyers said. He was unarmed.
The statement added that the deputies called for help only for their colleagues, not for Barreto, as he lay “on the ground with his body sizzling”.
Osceola Sheriff’s Office officials told WESH-TV that Barreto was among a group of motorcyclists pointing a gun, harassing other drivers and driving recklessly.
Osceola officials have shared little information about the incident with Barreto’s family, his stepmother, Frances Aponte, told WFTV-TV. She said the authorities didn’t want to give her any information at first and made her wait a few days.
When she was finally able to see her stepson in hospital, Aponte told the TV station, he was wrapped in bandages from neck to ankles.
“The police burned me,” Aponte said, quoting his son-in-law. “He won’t be the same,” she added.