A Florida sheriff’s deputy has been criminally charged for firing a Taser at a man pumping gas last year, igniting a fireball that burned nearly three-quarters of his body.
Osceola County Deputy David Crawford on Thursday was charged with culpable negligence for the caught-on-video incident at a Wawa gas station in Orange County on Feb. 27, 2022, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Jean Barretto Baerga was tackled by the officer after being followed by cops responding to a report of bikers riding recklessly.
Sheriff Marcos López said the suspect had run red lights, ridden on the sidewalk and grass, and headed toward oncoming traffic before pulling into the gas station, according to Fox 35.
Bodycam video shows Crawford tackling Baerga at the gas stop without announcing himself, and shouting at his partners to turn off the pump.
“Kill the pump! Kill the pump! There’s gas!” he is heard shouting after another deputy, Christopher Koffinas, used his stun gun on the suspect.
Seconds later, as the suspect lay in a pool of gasoline, Crawford raised his Taser.
“You’re gonna get tased again, dude!” he shouted before firing the weapon and igniting the explosive blaze.
“Deputy Crawford recklessly deployed a Taser at the victim who had become soaked in gasoline, and as a result, caused the explosion that injured the victim,” State Attorney Monique Worrell said, Fox 35 reported.
Baerga suffered second- and third-degree burns over about 75% of his body, according to his lawyer, Mark NeJame, who said the only parts that weren’t scorched were his masked face, gloved hands and his feet.
His legal team said he has racked up $7 million in medical expenses, which they plan to recoup from the sheriff’s office, according to the news outlet.
“They’re going to cost the taxpayers in Osceola County millions,” NeJame said. “There should be consequences, because how else do we stop this type of activity for happening again?”
The lawyer praised the State Attorney’s Office’s “professionalism and diligence” that led to the criminal charge.
“He barely survived. His life will always be in jeopardy because of the massive amount of scar tissue and damage that happened to his body. … He’s doing his best to get through his life with these cards that have been dealt to him,” NeJame said, the Sentinel reported.
“If he was driving recklessly, charge him with reckless driving, but you don’t almost kill somebody and set them on fire,” he said. “You cannot have law enforcement running amok. They’re supposed to be our protectors, not our ignitors.”
He also called on the state legislature to make it possible to file a felony charge, not just a misdemeanor, in similar cases.
“I don’t think it speaks to the severity of the negligence and the severity of the injuries, but I think that it addresses the crime under the current statute,” he said, Fox 35 reported.
The culpable negligence charge is the same one López recommended to the state attorney’s office last May, when he pointed out the deputies acknowledged the gas pumps and the risk of fire.
Crawford, who also was injured in the incident, remains on administrative leave.
Koffinas reportedly received a 40-hour unpaid suspension for firing his stun gun, but is not facing criminal charges.
“We feel it’s appropriate to let the criminal justice system determine if Deputy Crawford did a criminal act that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the agency said in a statement to the Sentinel