May 26, 2023 | 11:05
A Florida sheriff’s deputy has been criminally charged for firing a Taser at a man pumping gasoline last year, igniting a fireball that burned nearly three-quarters of his body.
Osceola County Deputy David Crawford was charged Thursday with culpable negligence for the incident caught on video at a Wawa gas station in Orange County on February 27, 2022, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Jean Barretto Baerga was approached by the officer after being followed by police officers who responded to a report of cyclists driving recklessly.
Sheriff Marcos Lopez said the suspect ran red lights, walked along the sidewalk and grass and into oncoming traffic before entering the gas station, according to Fox 35.
Body camera video shows Crawford accosting Baerga at the gas stop unannounced and yelling at his teammates to turn off the pump.
“Kill the bomb! Kill the bomb! There’s gasoline! he is heard screaming after another officer, 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 going to get electrocuted again, dude!” he yelled before firing the gun and igniting the explosive flame.
“Deputy Crawford recklessly deployed a Taser at the victim who had been drenched in gasoline and as a result caused the explosion that injured the victim,” State’s Attorney Monique Worrell said, Fox 35 reported.
Baerga suffered second- and third-degree burns to about 75% of his body, according to his attorney, Mark NeJame, who said the only parts that weren’t burned were his masked face, gloved hands and feet.
His legal team said he racked up $7 million in medical expenses, which they plan to recover from the Sheriff’s Office, according to the news outlet.
“They will cost Osceola County taxpayers millions,” NeJame said. “There must be consequences, because how else do we stop this type of activity from happening again?”
The lawyer praised the “professionalism and diligence” of the State Attorney’s Office that led to the criminal accusation.
“He barely survived. Her life will always be in danger due to the large amount of scar tissue and the damage done to her body. … He is doing everything possible to spend 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 not almost kill someone and set them on fire,” he said. “You can’t make law enforcement go crazy. They are supposed to be our protectors, not our lighters.
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 seriousness of the negligence and the seriousness of the injuries, but I think it addresses the crime under the current statute,” he said, reported Fox 35.
The charge of culpable negligence is the same one that López recommended to the state prosecutor’s office last May, when he pointed out that the deputies recognized the gasoline pumps and the risk of fire.
Crawford, who was also 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 believe it is appropriate to leave it to the criminal justice system to determine whether Officer Crawford committed a criminal act that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the agency said in a statement to the Sentinel.