TAVARES, Fla. – A Tavares police officer may be terminated from the department after an August incident in which the officer followed a man -- based on his own suspicions -- before shocking him with a Taser, violating the city’s use-of-force policy.
Police Chief Sarah Coursey recommended the termination of Officer Jason Baugh this week.
Video from Baugh’s body-worn camera shows Baugh engaging with the man, whom News 6 is not identifying because he has not been charged with a crime, at a home on St. Clair Abrams Avenue.
In the video, Baugh asks to talk to the man, who acknowledges the officer and agrees, then starts to walk away. Baugh follows the man, demanding he stop, then as the man enters the home, Baugh deploys his Taser, the video shows. Baugh then goes into the home and pulls his firearm before taking the man into custody.
During questioning by an internal affairs investigator, Baugh said he had believed the man could be engaged in criminal activity based on several factors:
- Baugh observed the man driving recklessly and followed him, planning to make a traffic stop, but he never put his vehicle’s lights or sirens on, which Tavares Police Dept. says is standard procedure when making a traffic stop.
- Baugh said he saw a large crack in the windshield and thought it could be consistent with hit-and-run crash damage.
- Baugh said he checked the vehicle’s license plates and it came up with a Eustis address, not the address of the home in Tavares.
- The man left the vehicle running when he arrived at the house.
- Baugh said the man continued to walk away despite Baugh demanding he stop walking.
But the man and other witnesses told the investigator that he was visiting a family member’s home, and he walked away from Baugh because he was uncomfortable talking to the officer without a family member present, so he wanted to bring one outside.
The investigator’s report states that Baugh’s check on the vehicle’s license plates turned up no criminal activity, and there were no recent incidents of a hit-and-run crash that Baugh should have been on the lookout for.
The investigator’s report also says Baugh never asked the man about the damage to the windshield during the initial conversation. The investigator says that since the man cordially engaged with Baugh initially, the conversation was considered a “consensual encounter.”
In his interview with the investigator, Baugh said he believed the man was a threat to his safety, and any criminal is a threat until proven otherwise, but could not provide any specific facts or evidence, nor did he provide any specific facts or evidence that the man planned to arm himself against Baugh.
The investigators concluded that Baugh’s use of force was “objectively unreasonable.”
“Officer Baugh acted outside of policy and standard practice. When we learned of this incident, we took immediate action to rectify it,” Coursey said in a news release. “His actions are not indicative of how our officers act towards our community in which we serve and protect.”
The Tavares Police Department says Baugh will now go through the disciplinary process as an “intent to separate.” Baugh has a right to appeal his decision, but if he does not he will be officially terminated.
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