Revolution #139, August 10, 2008
Execution by Taser: The Police Killing of Baron “Scooter” Pikes
On January 17, 2008, Baron Pikes, known to his friends and family as Scooter, was walking down the street in the small town of Winnfield, Louisiana. He had just celebrated his 21st birthday a few days before. A white police officer approached Baron, who is Black, and Baron took off running. He was cornered by another cop outside a grocery store. While on the ground and handcuffed, Baron was brutally tortured with seven 50,000-volt electric shocks from the police taser gun.
According to witnesses, Baron said to the cops, “Please, you all got me. Please don’t tase me again.” Baron was driven to the police station, not to a hospital, despite police regulations that require that someone who is tased should receive immediate medical attention. In the police car the cops administered two more electric shocks to Baron, including one where the stun gun was put directly in contact with Baron’s chest. Even though Baron was foaming at the mouth, he was still not given medical attention. By the time paramedics arrived at the police station 39 minutes after his arrest, Baron was dead.
The torture and murder of Baron Pikes took place in the early afternoon outside a local grocery store in full public view. This brutality was clearly meant not just to punish the victim but also to terrorize a whole community.
Winnfield is a small town of 6,000. It is roughly half white and half Black. Sixty-two percent of the Black people in Winnfield live below the poverty line compared to 13 percent of whites.
Kayshon Collins, Baron’s stepmother, told Revolution, “There’s a lot of discrimination here in Winnfield. There’s not many places here for Black kids to go. And everywhere they go it’s always the cops coming and breaking it up. There’s a park here with a big old gazebo. If our kids are ever around there someone comes up and tells them they can’t be around, they have to go home.”
Cover-up and Exposure
Scott Nugent, son of a former Winnfield police chief, tasered Baron Pikes as two other cops stood by. The police spokesman told the Chicago Tribune that Nugent acted within the scope of his training and Winnfield Police Department policies.
The police claimed immediately after the incident that Baron told them that he was high on PCP and crack cocaine and that he has asthma. Carol Lexing, the attorney for Baron Pikes’s family, told Revolution, “When they said that he had taken crack and PCP and that he had voluntarily made that statement, we knew that that was impossible from the evidence that had been put forth about how he had been tasered. They put that out as a mechanism to cover up what really happened, that he had been tasered to death.” Kayshon Collins told Revolution that Baron did not have asthma, and that the emergency room doctor said no drugs were found in him.
The police also claimed that Baron resisted arrest. But the official police report itself says that Baron did not resist arrest, that he was handcuffed while lying on the ground, and that it was only later, after Baron allegedly refused the police command to stand up, that Nugent applied the first taser shock.
It took six and a half months for the coroner’s report to be released, confirming that the police had lied. According to attorney Lexing, “One of the coroners didn’t even want to touch it. He knew what the truth was but he didn’t want to pronounce it as what it really was.” Dr. Randolph Williams, who has served as Parish coroner for the last 33 years and has a reputation for independence, ended up performing the autopsy.
Williams sought the opinions of two nationally renowned forensic pathologists before releasing his report. Williams’s autopsy determined that there were no drugs in Baron Pikes’s system and that he did not have asthma. Pikes’s death was ruled a homicide. On the death certificate, Williams listed the cause of death as “cardiac arrest following nine 50,000-volt electroshock applications from a conductive electrical weapon.” Williams told the Chicago Tribune, “This case may be the most unnecessary death I have ever had to investigate. [Baron Pikes] put up no fuss, no fighting, no physical aggression.”
Despite the outrageous actions of the police that caused Baron’s death, no charges have been brought against Nugent or the other two cops involved. The City Council voted to fire Nugent in May in an effort to cool down the outrage around the case, but Nugent is appealing the decision. After the case received some national publicity, the district attorney announced that he would bring the case before a grand jury. He refused to say what charges he would seek against the officers.
Echoes of Jena
Baron Pikes’s family and the community have organized several marches to protest the killing. The first took place the Saturday after Baron was murdered.
“It’s not just Black people,” Kayshon Collins told Revolution. “A lot of white people have come to me and said to keep on fighting, don’t let it go because it was wrong the way that things were handled on that day.”
Winnfield is just 40 miles from Jena, where six Black youth, known as the Jena 6, were threatened with decades in prison for protesting racist outrages, including lynching nooses that were hung on the “whites-only” tree at the high school. Baron Pikes was the first cousin of Mychal Bell, one of the Jena 6.
Carol Lexing, who was also one of the attorneys for the Jena 6, said that the struggle to free the Jena youth has had an important impact on what is happening in Winnfield. Last September, tens of thousands from across the country marched in Jena to demand freedom for the Jena 6. “It was a positive encouragement for people not to lay down and let you continue to do things to us anymore,” Lexing told Revolution. “They know the history of their town. People said, we are not going to let them shove this under the rug.… They weren’t just going to take the word of the police. If they had, we would have never heard about it.”
The Winnfield Branch of the NAACP is planning a march on August 18, the day that Nugent will appeal his firing before the civil service board.
Tasers, Torture and Death
Despite Winnfield’s small size there have been 14 incidents of taser use by the police in the year since they first received the weapons. Of those 14 incidents, 12 have involved Nugent, the cop involved in Baron’s death, and ten of the 14 incidents have been against Black people.
Among those tasered by Nugent was a 15-year-old African-American youth who was not charged with any crime. Joe Heard told the Chicago Tribune that his son was tasered twice by Nugent last August, after Heard reported the youth as a runaway and asked the police to help find him. “He snuck out of the house to be with a girl,” Heard said. “I asked the police to bring him home, and they did, but in pieces—he was all scraped up and bruised. They told me the next time he runs, ‘You know we’re going to shoot him.’”
Kayshon Collins told Revolution that what the police did to Baron was a form of torture. Dr. Michael Baden, a nationally prominent forensic pathologist who was consulted by Coroner Williams about the case, said that the police use of the tasers in this case “could be considered to be torture.” The United Nations Committee Against Torture, Amnesty International, and other organizations have said that the police use of tasers in the U.S. is a form of torture. (See “Torture by Police Taser in the USA,” available online at revcom.us, for more on the rising use of tasers by cops in the U.S.)
The police torture and killing of Baron Pikes is not an isolated incident. The police murders and brutality in cities around the U.S., the imprisonment of a large section of African-American youth, the nooses in Jena and other places, and countless other racist outrages all show that the oppression of Black people continues to be enforced with vicious violence and terror.
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