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Osceola deputy to be charged in Wawa Taser fire that gave man third-degree burns


OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Two people will be charged after a taser deployed during an attempted arrest at an Osceola County Wawa where a massive fireball ignited and burned a suspect and deputy.

Surveillance video from the Wawa at John Young and Central Florida Parkway on Feb. 27 shows the flames that engulfed the suspect, 26-year-old Jean Baretto, and Osceola County sheriff's deputy, David Crawford.

According to the sheriff's office, the deputies were attempting to arrest Baretto who had fled after allegedly being part of a group of motorcyclists driving recklessly and allegedly pointing a gun at other drivers.

Officials say Baretto and the deputy that deployed the Taser will both be charged in the incident.

Osceola County Sheriff addresses fire

Osceola Sheriff Marcos Lopez began a news conference Thursday by saying that immediately following the Feb. 27 incident, he requested the Fire Marshal's Office investigate and asked the Osceola County Sheriff's Department to investigate.

Lopez said he did not send it to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement because a firearm was not used, instead a taser, "less lethal" force, was used.

He said he also did not turn the investigation over to FDLE because he has "full faith" in the integrity of his department.

"I knew they would do their jobs regardless of who was involved," he said.

Lopez began to construct a timeline of what led up to the incident.

At 5 p.m., the sheriff received 911 calls from concerned citizens about men on dirt bikes that were pointing guns at people on an Osceola County road.

When deputies responded, the subject fled and refused to stop, he said.

"For the safety of everyone, no one in my department pursued on the roadway," Lopez said.

However, he said a sheriff's helicopter followed the suspect as he drove recklessly. Lopez said the helicopter followed the suspect, who was surrounded by other people on bikes, for about 30 minutes.

"In Osceola County, we have no tolerance for this type of behavior," he said. "We will identify you and catch you, even if you flee into another county."

The dirt bike rider is seen popping wheelies, driving the wrong way down the road and running red lights.

When the suspect stops to refuel at the Wawa, a deputy attempts to apprehend him.

As the deputies are working to bring the suspect into custody, the bike is knocked over, spilling fuel.

A deputy deploys the taser and it ignites the fuel, creating a huge fire. Video from the helicopter shows the suspect and a deputy were engulfed in flames.

Lopez said the department's investigation concludes Baretto should be charged with fleeing and attempting to elude law enforcement, reckless driving and resisting without violence.

In addition, Crawford will be charged with culpable negligence.

"He was aware there was gas in the immediate area, 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,'" Lopez said. "His actions were reckless and the disregard for life rises to the level of culpable negligence."

Lopez praised the deputies who investigated the incident for being objective and concluding that the deputy should face charges.

Responding to claims that Baretto was not the biker they were originally pursuing, he said, "well he matched the description." However, deputies never found a firearm on him.

Crawford will be placed on paid leave.

The sheriff says he’s keeping the injured rider in his thoughts but says he must enforce the laws.

Attorneys outraged by Wawa fire

Attorneys for motorcyclist Baretto claim he never committed a crime and is now living in daily extreme pain and fighting for his life.

“We're not saying anything other than let's get the truth out, and it's not out,” attorney Mark NeJame said.

NeJame and attorney Albert Yonfa now represent Barreto who they say initially was not expected to survive and has been hospitalized for 80 days with third-degree burns over 75% of his body.

The attorneys allege the surveillance video shows Baretto, who they say was not fleeing, being tackled by a deputy from behind as he pumped gas. Other deputies pull up. One fires a taser at Baretto, and according to the state fire marshal’s report, that taser ignites the blaze.

Among the attorney's questions is why the deputies would deploy a taser toward someone who is pumping gas which is highly flammable.

They also question why the sheriff's office has not yet released more information about the incident including body camera video.

“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.

NeJame released a response to the news that charges would be filed.

NeJame made clear he believes charges brought against Barreto are unjustified.

"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," he wrote. "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."

NeJame went on to say that Lopez now coming out with charges is an attempt to "detract from his and his department's culpability, liability, and responsibility."

"If he does choose to bring these false criminal charges, they will be considered retaliatory, unjustified, and vindictive," he said.

Orange County has confirmed to WESH 2 that Osceola deputies never requested permission to pursue Barreto in Orange County, which they are supposed to do.

"We're very pleased that we were able to apply enough pressure on the sheriff to finally disclose what he's been withholding from us, the public, the state attorney, and the media for almost three months," Nejame said in the statement.

"He continues to minimize his dangerous policies and the potential harm and cost it brings to the public and his deputies. This case is but another example of its foolishness and danger," Nejame said in the statement.

The charge against the deputy and the suspect, which include reckless driving, resisting arrest without violence and fleeing will be forwarded to the state attorney's office.

"The sheriff's office advised that it was conducting its own internal investigation into the the incident. We were not provided with any further details at this time," State Attorney Monique Morrell said.

The deputy has been released from the hospital and is on paid administrative leave until further notice.

The attorney says Barreto continues to fight for his life and has completed his first round of skin grafting.

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Source: WESH Orlando

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