A mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Lafayette Parish sheriff and his deputy alleging her son suffered a fatal asthma attack following the deputy’s use of a taser on him. 28-year-old Javon Rakestrau died last year in Lafayette after Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Guidry attempted to stop and question the man as he walked along a street. When Rakestrau failed to comply and continued walking, an altercation allegedly ensued and Deputy Guidry used a stun gun on Rakestrau in an effort to subdue him. The lawsuit alleges Deputy Guidry continued to shock Rakestrau even after the man became nonresponsive. Rakestrau was pronounced dead at the scene of the altercation.
A pathologist ruled Rakestrau’s death accidental, but stated law enforcement’s use of the stun gun and stress from the incident were likely contributing factors. Deputy Guidry claimed he stopped Rakestrau after receiving information from an undercover officer who witnessed a man fitting Rakestrau’s description engage in a drug sale in the vicinity. The Sherriff’s Office has stated the altercation escalated and a taser was used because Rakestrau resisted arrest. The office also publicly released video footage of the scuffle taken from a dashboard camera in Deputy Guidry’s patrol car in an effort to show the deputy followed protocol. Although he was unarmed, Rakestrau had 4.4 ounces of marijuana on his person at the time of his death.
His mother filed a a civil tort claim against the sheriff and his deputy for wrongful death. A civil tort claim allows plaintiffs to seek money damages for any harm which is not criminal in nature, such as wrongful death. In general, police officers enjoy qualified immunity from liability in cases such as this one as long as they act in good faith while engaging in their duties. Officers must use force in certain circumstances, and few restrictions exist regarding the use of non-deadly force such as stun guns. Rakestrau’s mother may be able to collect damages against the officers if she can prove Deputy Guidry’s conduct was excessive and out of bounds.
The lawsuit also claims Rakestrau was the victim of excessive force in violation of his civil rights. A federal civil rights law, Section 42 U.S.C. § 1983, provides citizens with the ability to sue police officers such as Deputy Guidry for money damages for violations of a citizen’s Fourth Amendment constitutional protection from the use of excessive force. Rakestrau’s mother is seeking damages for funeral expenses, pain and suffering, grief and asking the court to award punitive damages against Deputy Guidry.
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