Attorneys for a Florida man say he is still fighting for his life after being “cooked alive” in February when a sheriff’s deputy allegedly deployed a Taser while the man was covered in gas while fueling his motorbike. Jean Barreto, 26, has third-degree burns over 75% of his body, his lawyers said Wednesday.
Both Barreto and the deputy who allegedly deployed the Taser are facing charges, Osceola County Sheriff Marcos R. Lopez said during a Thursday press conference. Barreto is facing charges including fleeing and attempting to allude law enforcement, reckless driving and resisting an officer without violence. The deputy is charged with culpable negligence. Neither has been arrested at this point.
On Thursday, Lopez played video of the February 27 incident. The footage, which was captured by a helicopter, showed a portion of the 30-minute traffic disruption allegedly caused by Barreto and other motorcyclists. In it, the bikers appear to be driving on the wrong side of the road, popping wheelies and stopping in the middle of the road, just in front of other cars. According to Lopez, the bikers ran several red lights and endangered the lives of other motorists. Authorities also believed that the bikers had guns, as 911 callers alleged.
“People are just sick of it — sick and tired of this stuff,” Lopez said as the video played.
Deputies tried to arrest Barreto during a traffic stop, but he fled the scene. They later caught up with him at the Wawa, where he was refueling his bike.
In another video shared during Thursday’s press conference, deputies approach Barreto at the gas pump. Unsure if he does have a weapon, deputies engage with him, trying to get his hands where they can see them, Lopez said. At that same time, the bike was knocked over, causing gasoline to pour out of it. The deputy charged can be heard saying on body camera video “Kill the pump! Kill the pump! There’s gas.”
Still struggling to get Barreto to cooperate, Lopez said a deputy picked up a Taser and told Barreto he was about to use the Taser on him. Moments later, the video shows a massive blaze erupt at the pump. According to Lopez, based on Taser logs and an investigation done by fire officials, the fire was caused by the deputy deploying the Taser near the flammable gasoline.
The sheriff said both Barreto and the deputy went up in flames. Nearby deputies helped Barreto first, Lopez said, using a fire extinguisher to put out the flames.
Barreto’s attorney Mark Nejame says his client was “bum-rushed from behind” by the sheriff’s deputy, and his dirt bike fell over, spilling gas on Barreto and the deputy. His lawyers say at three more deputies arrived and one of them “proceeded to employ the use of a Taser on Mr. Barreto, engulfing almost his entire body in flames and approximately half of the other deputy’s as well.”
“While being cooked alive, Mr. Barreto sustained third degree burns on approximately 75% of his body, front and back from his feet to the bottom of his neck,” Nejame said.
Barreto, who spent 10 weeks in the hospital, is still undergoing “excruciating” treatment and was expected to be placed in a medically induced coma this week to undergo debridement, his lawyer said.
The deputy also suffered burns. Lopez said Thursday that the charge against the deputy was decided after reviewing all of the evidence, which showed his actions were “reckless” and “held such disregard for human life that it rises to the level of probable cause for culpable negligence.”
Lopez also said all of the responding deputies were wearing body cameras, and the footage from those cameras will soon be released to the public.
The deputy is currently on paid administrative leave. The sheriff’s office will now launch an internal investigation to determine how many, if any, of its policies the deputy violated.
Meanwhile, Nejame called for more transparency and accountability from the sheriff’s office and said he would request that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement take over the investigation.