TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida deputy faces a misdemeanor charge for allegedly igniting a fireball at a gas station that left a suspect with serious burns, WESH reports.
The suspect, Jean Barreto, was thought to be part of a group of dirt bike riders seen pointing guns at people while driving recklessly through traffic in Osceola County on Feb. 27, according to the county’s Sheriff Marcos Lopez.
“In Osceola County, we have no tolerance for this type of behavior,” Lopez told reporters Thursday. “We will identify you and catch you, even if you flee into another county.”
Although Orange County officials say they did not seek permission to pursue the group in their jurisdiction, the deputies followed them into the neighboring county.
A video from a sheriff’s office helicopter shows a man believed to be Barreto popping wheelies, running red lights and driving the wrong way down a road before stopping at a Wawa gas station.
When deputies approached him, a struggle ensued.
Barreto’s lawyers said Deputy David Crawford tackled their client from behind as he pumped gas, knocking over his bike and spilling fuel.
Lopez said Crawford picked up a Taser that was discarded by another officer and deployed it near the flammable gasoline. Then an explosion occurred, Lopez said. Barreto and the deputy were engulfed in flames, according to the report.
“While being cooked alive, Mr. Barreto sustained third degree burns on approximately 75% of his body, front and back from his feet to the bottom of his neck,” Barreto’s attorney Mark NeJame said.
The deputy also suffered burns, and other deputies were injured, according to Lopez.
“He [Deputy Crawford] was aware there was gas in the immediate area,” Lopez said. ‘He says ‘kill the pump, there’s gas,’ he then grabbed a discarded Taser and told the suspect, ‘You’re about to get Tased again dude.'”
“His actions were reckless and the disregard for life rises to the level of culpable negligence,” Lopez added.
Crawford is charged with misdemeanor culpable negligence. He is currently on paid administrative leave.
Barreto, who remains in the hospital 10 weeks later, faces charges of reckless driving, resisting arrest without violence and fleeing.
Barreto’s attorney said his client never committed a crime, and that he is in extreme pain as he fights for his life in the hospital.
“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,” NeJame added in a statement. “Regardless, attacking him at the Wawa, even after the fire marshall report indicated that any pursuit had ended, was a grossly excessive, unwarranted, and horrific abuse of police conduct and authority.”
Lopez said an internal investigation will determine which policies were violated.
“We’re calling today for FDLE to take this case over or to have the U.S. Justice Department take this case over. There’s too much going on, too many questions that need to be asked,” NeJame said.