A Tarpon Springs man who was repeatedly shocked by a deputy's Taser had heard bad news about a relationship before getting into a "violent struggle" at Honeymoon Island State Park, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Sunday.
The man, James Clifton Barnes, 37, was on a ventilator and not expected to survive, the sheriff said Sunday afternoon.
The episode began Saturday on the north end of the Dunedin state park. Barnes had received news about the health of a boyfriend, the sheriff's said, and told his aunt that he wanted to "cleanse himself" at the beach.
The aunt, Paula Yount, joined Barnes in the water. But Barnes "went berserk for no reason" and began cursing and pushing her, Gualtieri said.
Yount declined to comment Sunday.
An officer with the state Department of Environmental Protection, Joseph Tactuk, was on patrol at the park and saw the altercation.
Tactuk tried to stop it, the sheriff said, but Barnes got into a fist fight with the officer, bloodying his nose.
During the struggle, Barnes was placed haphazardly in handcuffs, with one hand tangled behind his head.
Marine sheriff's Deputy Kenneth Kubler and other Pinellas County patrol units arrived.
Barnes was pulled to the edge of the shore, where he continued to throw elbows, flail about and head-butt the deputies, Gualtieri said.
As Barnes continued to struggle, Kubler fired a Taser at him, limiting the bursts to less than what the weapon allows. The sheriff said Kubler fired it twice more — for three-second bursts — as the struggle continued.
Barnes stopped struggling. After authorities adjusted his handcuffs, they discovered he was not breathing. Emergency crews were called to the beach, and Barnes was then taken to Bayfront Medical Center.
Gualtieri said there's no specific policy about using Tasers on handcuffed suspects. But, he said, it is usually proper to use them when someone, as in this case, is using physical resistance against a deputy.
Gualtieri said the incident remains under investigation.
Tactuk, 21, has been a DEP officer since 2010. Kubler, 48, has been with the sheriff's office since 1982.
In 2002, Kubler fatally shot an unarmed drug suspect. The incident occurred late at night in the woods after the suspect lunged at Kubler and his tracking dog, officials said. State Attorney Bernie McCabe ruled the shooting justifiable because the deputy feared for his safety and was protecting himself.
Kubler was unable to tell that the suspect was unarmed and nearby deputies reported hearing Kubler shout, "Show me your hands!" six or seven times.
Barnes' friend Mario Lopez, who lives in Puerto Rico, said he spoke with Barnes by phone Saturday before the incident.
He said Barnes was laughing and told him, "I'm going to have a beautiful day on the beach."
Lopez described Barnes as a hard worker and a thoughtful person. Lopez got sick on a recent trip to Florida, and Barnes brought him Gatorade, chicken soup and crackers, he said.
"I love the kid because he's a very nice guy," said Lopez, 49.
Barnes has been arrested twice on misdemeanor charges, state records show. In 1995, he was arrested on a charge of marijuana possession and in 2008, on a charge of driving under the influence with property damage.
News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected]