Coroner: Cocaine killed suspect

A man who died after a fight with Baton Rouge police officers last summer had ingested a lethal dose of cocaine that caused him to suffer a “terminal cardiac arrhythmia,” according to toxicology results.

Officers responding to an Aug. 24 domestic dispute fired stun guns at 43-year-old Derek B. Dukes, but East Baton Rouge Coroner Dr. Beau Clark concluded that did not contribute to his death.

“At the end of the day, I think you’ve got a guy who ingested a lot of cocaine, who had chronic medical conditions, and was in a fight,” Clark said Tuesday. “All that stimulation was too much and sent him into an arrhythmia.”

The fight began after an officer arrived at Dukes’ West Roosevelt Street residence and, through a window, spotted Dukes on top of his wife beating her, police have said. The officer entered the unlocked home, confronted the 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound man and used his stun gun in response to Dukes taking “an aggressive stance,” the authorities have said.

Dukes managed to disengage the probes from the stun gun, lunged at the officer and fought with him until backup arrived, police have said. A second officer fired his stun gun, police have said, but Dukes again removed the probes and continued fighting.

Two more officers joined the struggle and eventually brought Dukes to the ground. As Dukes lay prone and the officers sought to handcuff him, they noticed he had stopped breathing, police have said.

Emergency Medical Services responded and performed CPR, authorities said, but Dukes died at an area hospital. Investigators searching the home after the fight recovered illegal drugs, according to police.

A preliminary autopsy report pointed to complications caused by an enlarged heart, a condition Clark said could have been caused by prolonged drug use. Dukes had a level of nearly 5,000 nanograms of cocaine per milliliter in his blood, Clark said.

“These are definitely overdose numbers,” Clark added. “Cocaine, being a stimulant, can cause an increase in your heart rate, which can lead to an electrical problem in your heart.”

Clark said he could not predict whether Dukes would have died without being exposed to the stun guns, but said he did not think “the Tasers even had an effect” on Dukes because they quickly became detached during the fight. Toxic levels of cocaine, combined with other factors, including Dukes’ weight and exertion from the fight, contributed to the death, Clark said.

“I would say it would be fair to call this an ‘excited delirium’ if his toxicology screen had been negative,” Clark said. “But with a positive toxicology screen, it’s difficult to call it that.”

The officers involved in the fight were briefly placed on administrative leave but later put back to work. They were later cleared of any wrongdoing, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a police spokesman.

At the time of his death, Dukes had been under indictment for aggravated battery. A 54-year-old woman claimed Dukes picked her up one night in August 2011 and, holding a large hunting knife against her throat, forced her to perform a sex act, according to court records.

The woman removed a knife of her own during the encounter and stabbed Dukes near his left side, records show. Dukes then allegedly struck her in the side of the face, causing her cheek to swell, according to a warrant.