Last week there was an unfortunate tasing death in Lafayette, Louisiana that could become a wrongful death action. A police officer was investigating a possible drug deal in Duson. He approached a suspect, Javon Rakestrau, and they became involved in a scuffle. The police officer ended up using a stun gun to subdue the suspect — who died as a result of the tasing.
If there is going to be a civil action in this matter, and I assume there will be, it will be a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Lafayette Parish Police Department. The suit will be against the police department because the officer was acting in the scope of his employment. The officer was performing police duties, wearing a police uniform and using a police car – so there is no doubt that he was acting as an employee of the police department at the time of the incident.
What the wrongful death attorney for the plaintiffs will need to prove (the plaintiffs will be the family members of the deceased man including wife and children, if any, and parents, in that order), is that the officer acted unreasonably or in a negligent manner. The officer had probable cause to stop the suspect, but the victim would have had to be acting in a violent manner or be considered a threat to the community to justify the use of the stun gun.
Reviewing the tape of the incident, it is hard to decide if the tasing was justifiable.
If a civil action is filed, it will be Lafayette Parish jury members who will make that decision. They will consider expert and factual testimony and will review the videotape. What will be interesting to note is whether there are similar complaints against that officer, and whether the victim has a history of aggressive behavior. It would also be a good idea to look at the Lafayette Parish Police Department’s official policy about the appropriate situation to use a stun gun.
As a trial attorney in Lafayette Parish, I have handled similar cases in the past, and these are the issues I would investigate when preparing for trial. No matter the eventual outcome, the whole affair is sad for the victim, the victim’s family and the officer.