Oklahoma Cops Convicted of Murder by Taser After Delivering 53 Jolts to Suspect in Custody
On November 8, 2021, two former Oklahoma police officers were convicted of second-degree murder for the 2019 death of 28-year-old Jared Lakey, whom they stunned with Tasers more than 50 times within ten minutes while he was in custody. Brandon Dingman and Joshua Taylor were also convicted of the lesser included offense of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Each man faces from 10 years to life in prison, with sentencing scheduled for Dec. 2. The case illustrates the importance of video surveillance of officers who might abuse their authority, as well as the lethal potential of so-called “less-lethal” weaponry.
As reported in The Washington Post, the events leading to Lakey’s death began in Wilson, Oklahoma, a rural community 100 miles south of Oklahoma City, late July 4, 2019. Officers Taylor and Dingman received a call that a man was “screaming and running down the road.” State investigators claimed, “Lakey refused to comply with the commands of the officers,” and as a result, the officers “used their Tasers multiple times.” That’s a rather routine description of officers using non-lethal force to subdue an agitated and perhaps dangerous suspect.
However, video from dashboard and body cameras do not tell such a bland tale. Yes, officers used Tasers multiple times, but they were multiples of 10! Court filings cited the officers’ Taser data logs, reflecting that “Taylor deployed his weapon 30 times for a total of more than two minutes, while Dingman used his Taser 23 times for just under two minutes total.” In total, officers tased Lakey 53 times. Thus, Lakey was shocked for almost four continuous minutes. The cops weren’t subduing the suspect; they were torturing him.
Subsequently, “in the early morning hours of July 5, 2019, Lakey stopped breathing and became unresponsive.” Lakey was hospitalized and died July 6. The hospital recorded the cause of death as a heart attack, but also noted, “law enforcement use of electrical weapon and restraint.” Later, Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant requested the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation review the officers’ use of force. This led to a review of the damning video footage.
The officers claimed to have followed department policy, noting that “neither officer attempted to control [Lakey] by placing their hands on him,” which would have run counter to their training. Instead, they delivered repeated 50,000-volt shocks, even as Lakey lay on his stomach, in effort to get him to put his hands behind his back. Defense counsel for the officers cited an autopsy report detailing that Lakey had “an enlarged heart and critical coronary artery disease.” In a statement of supreme irony, peppered with hubris, the defense attorney claimed Lakey died because he had “a diseased heart.”
Before the prevalence of video, the officers’ defense might have held up. However, no defense could explain away the 53 jolts captured on tape. An attorney for the Lakey family said, “To have a police chief tell the family in open court that torturing Jared was consistent with policy is just too barbaric for words.”
This brings us to the next point: the myth that Tasers are non-lethal weapons. Since the days of Rodney King, no rational police department would condone officers striking a prone man 53 times with their nightsticks. Why should policy allow 53 jolts of electricity sufficient to cause “neuromuscular incapacitation?”
The Post’s story notes that, four years ago, a Reuters investigation “found that more than 1,000 people in the United States had died after they were shocked with Tasers or other stun guns by police.” Tasering is not reserved for young, potentially dangerous suspects. Last March, police in Port Allen, Louisiana shocked a 67-year-old man while he was handcuffed! The man was hospitalized. Then, in May, an officer in Colorado tasered a 75-year-old man without warning. The man suffered a stroke and a burst appendix.
It’s become apparent that too many cops feel empowered by Tasers to deliver cheap shots to persons in custody, rather than using less lethal forms of intervention. We cannot handcuff the police so they can’t do their job, but neither can we give them license to torture.