Initial autopsy denies police injury
GONZALES — The autopsy of a man who drowned last week in Bayou Francois while running from police turned up no evidence that the man had been injured by officers before he went into the water, the Ascension Parish Coroner’s Office said Monday.
Preliminary autopsy results show Jerrick Lane, 25, 8544 S. St. Landry Ave., Lot 49, Gonzales, died by drowning due to immersion in water, a statement from Coroner John Fraiche says.
“There was no indication of any injury caused by law enforcement,” Fraiche said. He said he spoke with the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office forensic pathologist, who conducted the autopsy Friday.
The coroner’s preliminary findings lends credence to the police version of events, which Lane’s family had questioned.
Family members of Lane said he was a good swimmer and suggested something else contributed to his drowning, including that he was shot with a stun gun. Such weapons fire prongs that pierce the skin to deliver an electric shock and would have left marks on Lane’s body had he been hit with one.
The attorney for Lane’s family said Monday the family wants to conduct its own autopsy and believes Louisiana State Police should investigate the incident because Lane was related to Gonzales Police Chief Sherman Jackson.
Attorney Peter John said having a third party can protect the interests of the community and maintain confidence in the system.
“Actually that’s the way it’s supposed to work,” he said.
Family members and John said they found a witness who saw an officer walking back from the drowning scene on April 8 with what appeared to be a fired stun gun.
Gonzales police said they checked stun guns held by officers at the scene and found none had been fired.
Sgt. Steven Nethken, a detective, said Monday that with the preliminary autopsy results, the police administrative investigation into the death is essentially closed and will go into an inactive status until the final autopsy report with toxicology results is completed.
“The final autopsy report will not be available for several weeks,” Fraiche said in the statement.
Jackson, who said he is related to Lane’s father, said he is not ready to make a formal statement because he would like to “look into some things.”
He did say that John is welcome to ask State Police to do an investigation.
“I don’t have anything to hide. My guys don’t have anything to hide. We’re just making sure we do our jobs correctly,” he said.
The police chief offered his condolences to Lane’s family and called his death an unfortunate situation stemming from a bad choice.
John said Lane’s death has shined a light on the black community’s lingering mistrust of city police in Gonzales.
He said the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service needs to be called to hold a hearing to address those tensions and improve communication with the public.
“There needs to be some conciliation,” John said.
John compared Lane’s death with past high-speed vehicle chases with Gonzales police where people have died, including a fatal head-on crash in late 2012 on La. 30 where two accused shoplifters were killed and two others injured.
John said Lane’s cousin, Sylvester Bristol, 14, died in a high-speed chase with Gonzales and State Police. The chase happened in March 2004 after Bristol ran a red light. Bristol did not have a driver’s license, The Advocate reported at the time.
Jackson, who is Gonzales’ first elected black police chief and is in his second term, said he has never had problems communicating with the public.
He said he intervened in Lane’s life when Lane was a juvenile and thought he had helped improve Lane’s lifestyle decisions.
“I have always dealt with the community and am trying make things better, and he was one of them,” Jackson said.
Lane, who was wanted on outstanding warrants, ran from officers as they responded to complaints that Lane was assaulting a woman with a gun outside her home on South Abe Street.
When police cars turned onto the neighborhood road from West Worthey Road, Lane started running down the dead-end street toward the bayou.
Police said Lane was having troubling keeping his head above water by the time the first officer arrived at the bayou. Lane went under and could not be saved.
Nethken said officers never got close enough to see if Lane had a gun. A weapon has not be found.