FWC fires officer involved in Honeymoon Island death of James Barnes

5:02 PM, Aug 14, 2012   |    comments
James Barnes pictured at Bayfront Medical Center on March 19.
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Dunedin, Florida -- The officer, involved in the death of James Barnes during an incident at Honeymoon Island back in March, was terminated from his position after an investigation showed he used poor judgment.

According the State Attorney's report, Officer Joseph Tactuk responded to the north end of Honeymoon Island after getting reports Barnes was "out of control".

When Officer Tactuk tried to arrest Barnes, he got very agitated and continued to struggle and refused commands to "stop resisting". Tactuk used non-lethal force including applying pain pressure points, hitting Barnes in the head and face, and pepper spraying him. He also used his body weight to control Barnes by sitting on his upper body. 

By the time a backup deputy arrived, Officer Tactuk has been in a violent struggle with Barnes for about 7 minutes in shallow water. 

The report says Deputy Kubler saw that Tactuk was getting tired from his bout with Barnes and he warned Barnes that if he didn't calm down he would be tasered. After a couple more minutes of Barnes continuing to struggle violently, Deputy Kubler tasered him five times and after the last cycle it reportedly was apparent Barnes needed medical help.

He was stabilized and taken to Bayfront Medical Center where he remained in a coma until his death two days later from complications associated with asphyxia.

Blood test results taken at the hospital revealed Barnes had synthetic marijuana in his system at the time of the incident. The illegal substance is believed to have contributed to his irrational and erratic behavior his aunt at the time described as "scary". 

Witnesses also described his behavior as erratic while he was in the water and that he was "flailing his arms, erratically splashing the water, throwing himself in the water or moving his body up and down in the water, very upset, out of control, and disturbed, all the while yelling and screaming phrases that had Biblical content".

State Attorney Bernie McCabe ultimately determined the fact Officer Tactuk is only 21 years old and had only been an officer for 7 months probably contributed to his poor judgement once Barnes was handcuffed and on shore. 

McCabe went on to say it was apparent Tactuk's lack of life and law enforcement experience contributed to him being unable to "think of all other reasonable options he had available to handle the situation as a solo patrol officer" and that a more experienced officer may have used better judgement.

McCabe did say that Barnes' death was accidental and unintentional and that the officers involved did not commit a crime.

Ultimately, based on the State Attorney's findings and the fact Officer Tactuk was still in his probationary employment period, the FWC decided to fire him.

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