New York Daily News
A biker battling for his life after he was “cooked alive” at a Florida gas station and the deputy accused of deploying his taser and igniting the brutal blaze are both facing charges after the botched arrest.
Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez announced during a press conference Thursday that Deputy David Crawford is facing a misdemeanor count of culpable negligence for allegedly sparking a fireball that seriously injured 26-year-old Jean Barreto.
Barreto has been in the hospital and has undergone six surgeries since the February confrontation, which left him with third-degrees burns on 75% of his body,
Barreto’s lawyer, Mark NeJame, has repeatedly proclaimed his client’s innocence and also noted that he does not have any criminal history. But Lopez also revealed Thursday that Barreto would be charged with a combination of felony and misdemeanors, including fleeing and attempting to elude law enforcement, reckless driving, and resisting an officer.
Barreto was on his way home from a get-together with fellow bikers on Feb. 27 after authorities forced the group to disband. Lopez said that the sheriff’s office started receiving 911 calls around 5 p.m. about a group of motorcyclists that were driving recklessly and pointing firearms at random drivers — including one report about an armed man matching Barreto’s description.
It took authorities about a half hour and a helicopter to track down Barreto, who was refueling his bike at a WaWa less than a mile from his home. Lopez said he drove through red lights, popped wheelies and drove on the sidewalk before he stopped at the gas station at John Young and Central Florida Parkway
When deputies arrived on the scene and attempted to arrest him, chaos almost immediately ensued. In the struggle to restrain Barreto, his motorbike got knocked over and gas started spilling out of the uncapped tank, Lopez said. At one point during the confrontation, Osceola County Deputy Christopher Koffinas tried to take Barreto into custody by using his Taser, which did not “have the desired effect,” the sheriff noted.
Crawford then shouted out a warning: “You’re about to get Tased again, dude,” before calling over to his comrade to cut off the gas flow.
“Immediately after his comment, the fire ignites,” Lopez said.
Surveillance video taken from the WaWa’s parking lot shows the flames engulf Barreto and several of the responding officers.
Another deputy on the scene, Benjamin Mclean, grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher while someone else nearby improvised and attempted to use Gatorade to douse the flames.
All three officers were also injured in the blaze.
“Although I personally believe there was no malice in this decision to do so, because [Crawford] also received burns and injuries, under the law, his actions were reckless and held such a disregard for human life that it rises to the level of probable cause for culpable negligence,” Lopez said.
Despite reports that Barreto was armed, no weapon was found on the scene. It has prompted speculation that Barreto was not in fact the same suspect authorities were initially pursuing — a claim that has since been waved off by the sheriff.
“He matched the description,” Lopez emphasized.
The sheriff also defended his decision against requesting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate incident, noting that only non-lethal force was used. NeJame has repeatedly condemned the move and has since blasted the charges raised against Barreto.
“What crime did he commit which would have caused him to even flee? Why has any such evidence been hidden? He had no record or firearm. He’s never even owned a gun and he didn’t have one on him when he was set ablaze,” he said in a statement to WESH.
“Regardless, attacking him at the Wawa, even after the fire marshal report indicated that any pursuit had ended, was a grossly excessive, unwarranted, and horrific abuse of police conduct and authority.”