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A Florida man, who was “engulfed in a fireball” after a sheriff’s deputy tased him at a gas station as he was fueling his motorcycle, is clinging to life, his lawyer said.
Jean Barreto, 26, suffered third-degree burns to more than three quarters of of his body, after being tased by an Osceola County Sheriff’s deputy, according to his legal team. He now requires extensive skin grafting and was recently placed in a medically induced coma.
“Mr. Barreto continues to fight for his life and has completed his first round of skin grafting,” Jean Barreto’s lawyer, Mark NeJame, told Oxygen.com in a statement Friday.
On Feb. 27, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office received reports of an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon allegedly involving several individuals on motorcycles who were pointing guns at people. Barreto, who was identified as a possible suspect in the incident, allegedly attempted to flee from deputies on a dirt bike, according to county and state officials’ account of the incident. A helicopter later followed Barreto to a gas station in Orlando where a trio of sheriff’s deputies confronted him.
“While the driver was refueling, OCSO deputies arrived on the scene where they made contact with the driver and a struggle between the driver and the deputies ensued,” a State Fire Marshal’s report obtained by Oxygen.com stated. “One of the deputies discharged his department issued Taser X7 electronic control device (ECD) striking the suspect. Shortly after the discharge, a fire occurred causing damage to the motorcycle as well as injuring the suspect and the three deputies.”
The cause of the inferno was ruled accidental by the State Fire Marshal. Barreto sustained third-degree burns to approximately 76 percent of his body and was initially expected “not to survive,” the fire marshal’s report added.
Two deputies involved in the encounter were treated for non-life threatening injuries and sent home. A third deputy sustained third-degree burns and required hospitalization, according to officials.
Mark NeJame, an attorney representing Barreto, is calling for charges against the deputy who discharged the taser. He’s accused Osecola County Sheriff Marcos R. Lopez’s office of negligence, overstepping jurisdiction, and of breaking the law.
“Law enforcement cannot break the law themselves in order to enforce it,” NeJame added. “They are not the judge, jury, and executioner. They have a limited role in our criminal justice system and when they take the law in their own hands, they are the most dangerous. Our client, Jean Barreto, has been cooked alive, by the overzealous, irresponsible, and illegal actions of the Osceola County Sheriff’s office.”
NeJame dismissed the sheriff’s account regarding his client’s involvement with the initial reports involving a group of armed motorcyclists as “misinformation.” He disputed that Barreto was even a suspect in the incident to begin with.
“Without any degree of probable cause they picked on him,” NeJame said. “Of course, he had no gun, which would have been seen by the helicopter if it was thrown. There was none on him when he was set on fire.
Although uncommon, others have also burst into flames in similar incidents involving flammable substances and taser deployments, sometimes with deadly results. A 2014 scholarly study published by peer-reviewed journal Science & Justice concluded that tasers used by law enforcement are “capable of igniting petrol/air vapours on a petrol-soaked person.” Some electroshock device manufacturers also warn consumers of the risk of flammability.
“TASER Devices Can Ignite Explosive Materials, Liquids or Vapors,” taser maker Axon wrote in a user manual for its X26 taser. “These include gasoline, other flammables, explosive materials, liquids, or vapors (e.g., gases found in sewer lines, methamphetamine labs, and butane-type lighters.”
In 2017, Texas man Gabriel Olivas, who doused himself in gasoline and had been threatening to light himself on fire, burst into flames after he was tased by Arlington police officers. His family had called 911 to defuse the situation.
It’s unclear if the deputy will face charges in the incident. Prosecutors are currently probing the matter.
“We have no other statements as this is an active and ongoing investigation,” a spokesperson for the Ninth Judicial Circuit State’s Attorney’s Office told Oxygen.com in a statement on Friday afternoon.
The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond to questions surrounding the investigation this week.
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