BATON ROUGE – Legal counsel for the parents of a 32-year-old Zachary man who died after being tased by Baton Rouge police last summer must show that the tasing was "the substantial cause" of his death to prevail in the lawsuit against the city's police department, a New Orleans attorney said.
"In this case, the individual who died as a result of police use of force was reported to have synthetic marijuana and amphetamine in his system," Peter Russell, attorney and managing partner with McBride & Russell Law Firm in New Orleans, said during a Louisiana Record email interview. "These drugs are known to be hallucinogenic and cause the heart rate to increase dramatically. The petitioner in this case will have to show that the taser was the substantial cause of Kevin Bajoie's death, and that the heart attack was not a result of any physical exertion and increased heart rate as a result of his potential resisting arrest and/or drug use. The police defense team will argue the complete opposite."
Bajoie's parents, Lawrence and Mabel Bajoie, filed suit June 13 in Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge against the Baton Rouge Police Department, and police officers Robert Gann, Donald Stoetzner, Jace Ducote and Maurice Duke. The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and monetary award, but Jill Craft, attorney for Lawrence and Mabel Bajoie, said that isn't all they seek.
"Obviously for my clients, the best possible outcome would be that their son was still alive," Craft said. "He worked hard through school and college, obtaining his degree and entering the IT profession. He is truly missed. At the end of the day, my clients desire that the public and law enforcement be aware of the dangers of tasers and be aware of the unique issues that can arise such that, hopefully, situations like this one will not occur."
Kevin Bajoie, 32, was tased by police on June 20, 2015 in the 9000 block of Avenue C in North Baton Rouge, near the campus of Southern University, according to the lawsuit and published reports. He was transported to Lane Regional Medical Center where he was declared dead in the emergency room, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit has been assigned to state District Judge Don Johnson.
Bajoie's death is a single number in an ever-growing list of fatalities caused by tasers, Craft said. In November, the Washington Post reported that 48 people in the U.S. died after being tased by police in the first 11 months of 2015.
"It would be fair to say that the use of tasers in this country has sky-rocketed in recent years and, unfortunately, the increase in the number of injuries and death as a result," Craft said. "It is important to remember that tasers are not toys. They are dangerous weapons. In the wrong or untrained or unsupervised hands, they can be deadly."
Of course, wrongful death cases against police are not new.
"Unfortunately, this type of case is not uncommon among taser-related death lawsuits involving the police," Russell said. "Before tasers, police were subject to wrongful death lawsuits because of the application of pepper spray, and before that, for the application of excessive force. These types of suits, usually have a common denominator in that all required some sort of force, and usually the individual died of cardiac arrest as a result of physical exertion. There was a small portion of the population that died as a result of severe allergies brought on by the application of pepper spray. All in all, this case is representative of other cases that have been litigated across this country in taser-related deaths."
The court in this case will have a wealth of evidence to examine, possibly including images culled from the latest technology in taser development, Russell said.
"The court will look to police officer reports, eyewitness reports and any videotape evidence," he said. "All new tasers have a camera located inside of them, which record the moments preceding the use of the taser and the moments after the taser have been discharged. If (the Baton Rouge Police Department) uses new tasers, it is likely that this video footage exists."