Two Oklahoma police officers were charged with second-degree murder this week as part of a July 4 incident last year in which the men allegedly used a Taser on a man more than 50 times before he died, according to court documents.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced Thursday that Wilson, Okla., police officers Joshua Taylor, 25, and Brandon Dingman, 34, were charged in connection with the 2019 death of 28-year-old Jared Lakey. Court documents filed in Carter County, Okla., show that the officers’ use of stun guns was a “substantial factor” in Lakey’s death, and that the 50-plus uses of the Tasers “greatly exceeded what would have been necessary or warranted by the attendant circumstances.”
The officers turned themselves in Thursday morning after the Carter County District Attorney’s Office issued warrants for their arrests earlier in the week. If convicted, they could face sentences of 10 years to life in prison. It remains unclear whether the officers remain with the Wilson Police Department. The police department did not immediately return messages left by The Washington Post early Friday.
The murder charges in Oklahoma come amid a period of national unrest surrounding police brutality. There’s been a renewed focused on law enforcement’s use of force and Tasers in recent weeks following the fatal police shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta last month. After the 27-year-old was found asleep in a Wendy’s drive-through, Brooks, who failed a sobriety test, fled from police and grabbed a Taser from one of the officers, police said. Brooks was shot and killed while running from police.
The incident in Wilson, located near the Texas border, unfolded late on July 4, 2019, when Taylor and Dingman responded to a call of Lakey “acting in a disorderly way,” according to the state. A public records lawsuit filed by Lakey’s family last year found that police replied to a report of a man “screaming and running down the road.” At around midnight, investigators said that Lakey, who was white, refused to comply with the commands of the white officers. That’s when the officers “used their Tasers multiple times,” the state said Thursday.
Shortly after a Carter County officer arrived to help get him into custody in the early morning hours of July 5, 2019, Lakey stopped breathing and became unresponsive, according to court documents. He was transported to hospitals in Healdton, Okla., and Oklahoma City for almost two days and died last July 6.
Records show that his cause of death is listed as multiple heart attacks as well as “law enforcement use of electrical weapon and restraint,” the Ardmoreite reported.
At the request of Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant, an agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was brought on last year to investigate the officers’ use of force. In reviewing the dashcam and body-cam footage, the agent saw the full extent of the officers’ repeated use of their Tasers on Lakey in a nine-minute time frame.
According to the officers’ Taser data logs in the court filings, Taylor allegedly deployed his Taser 30 times for a cumulative total of more than two minutes, while Dingman reportedly used his stun gun 23 times for just under two minutes total. As the Ardmoreite noted, “this indicates the victim was Tased for almost four minutes straight” in less than 10 minutes.
Dingman later told authorities that the officers continued using their Tasers “to attempt to keep [Lakey] from getting up and giving him the opportunity to come at Cpt. Taylor or myself.” But as the agent wrote in the affidavit, Lakey never struck or made any move toward police, and neither officer attempted to control the 28-year-old by placing their hands on him, which went against their training.
“The footage reveals numerous instances of both officers using their X26P Tasers to send electrical shocks through [the victim’s] body in an apparent attempt to persuade him to put his hands behind his back as he lay on the ground,” said the agent, according to court documents.
Since Lakey’s death, his family has filed a public records lawsuit and a federal civil rights lawsuit, both of which remain pending. Spencer Bryan, a lawyer for Lakey’s parents, told The New York Times that the charges announced against the officers were appropriate. He pointed out that both officers claimed to investigators early on that they only used their Tasers four times, a significant discrepancy compared to what’s outlined in court documents.
“I have never seen a more disturbing video,” Bryan said to the Times. “After watching it, I cannot understand how the city allowed officers who exhibited such gross recklessness, resulting in a man’s death, to continue working.”
Taylor and Dingman were released on $250,000 bonds on Thursday, the state said. Ryan Hunnicutt, an attorney representing both officers, told the newspaper that Lakey’s death “saddens us all.”
“We are confident that the legal system will provide an opportunity for all the facts to be known and look forward to our day in court,” he said.
In a statement to the Ardmoreite this week, Carter County District Attorney Craig Ladd offered his gratitude to Lakey’s family for a process that was slowed by a seven-month investigation and the coronavirus pandemic.
“Hopefully, the fact that the criminal prosecution of those responsible for his death has begun will make this upcoming first anniversary of his death a little bit easier to bear, if only in the slightest,” he said.