Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Family sues over death of man after violent arrest at Honeymoon Island

James Clifton Barnes, 37, died two days after being Tasered.

James Clifton Barnes, 37, died two days after being Tasered.

DUNEDIN — James Clifton Barnes died two years ago after a violent confrontation at Honeymoon Island State Park with two law enforcement officers — one from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the other from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Though his death was ruled a homicide, no one was charged with a crime. Barnes' mother, Patricia Juanita Wate of Tarpon Springs, has now gone to the civil courts. She hopes a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Pinellas County will grant her closure.

"Her primary objective is getting to the bottom of why this happened," said her attorney, Keith Carter. "She's heartbroken, inconsolable right now . . . There is nothing more difficult to get over than the loss of a child, even if the child is of adult age."

The 57-page complaint chronicles the deadly encounter between Barnes and law enforcement.

On March 17, 2012, Barnes and his aunt, Paula Yount, arrived at Honeymoon Island in Dunedin moments after he learned that an ex-partner of his had been diagnosed with AIDS.

When they entered the water, Barnes said he wanted to "cleanse his spirit by baptizing himself," the complaint states. With Yount's help, he sat in the water up to his chest and swung his body backward into the waves.

That's when DEP officer Joseph Tactuk, then 21, spotted the unfolding scene. According to a report released by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office in 2012, Tactuk told investigators he saw Barnes push or hit Yount, which prompted him to confront Barnes. When Barnes refused to come to shore, a scuffle ensued.

The complaint states Tactuk used "excessive force," punching Barnes, submerging his head in the water, putting him in a choke-hold and pepper-spraying his face.

Tactuk handcuffed Barnes and dragged him to shore, where he sat on his chest. Barnes was still kicking and struggling when Sheriff's Office Deputy Kenneth Kubler arrived and Tasered Barnes. Moments later, he lost consciousness.

Although Barnes was not breathing, Kubler, who had a barrier device that allowed him to perform CPR without risk of disease, did not do CPR, according to the complaint.

"He decided that (the barrier device) was not trustworthy enough for him to use it," Carter said.

Barnes, 37, was hospitalized and died two days later. The lawsuit claims that asphyxia, blunt trauma and restraint contributed to his death. The medical examiner's office ruled his death a homicide. An autopsy revealed traces of synthetic marijuana in his blood.

In a report released to the Tampa Bay Times in 2012, prosecutors said although Tactuk exercised poor judgment in Barnes' violent arrest, his death was an excusable homicide. The report also noted Kubler acted reasonably in Tasering Barnes.

Tactuk was fired after the DEP and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission merged their law enforcement divisions. Now 23, he works at the Port Richey Police Department, state records show.

Kubler, 50, still works at the Sheriff's Office, where he is the SWAT team liaison. His Tasering of Barnes was justified, a spokesman said.

Tactuk and Kubler declined comment for this article. Additional defendants named in the suit are the Sheriff's Office, DEP and the wildlife commission. They declined comment as well.

Among several allegations, the lawsuit claims that Tactuk and Kubler violated Barnes' constitutional rights and Kubler failed to render life-saving aid to Barnes. Tactuk also "intentionally battered" Barnes, whose arrest was unlawful because he had not committed a crime, the complaint states.

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

Family sues over death of man after violent arrest at Honeymoon Island 05/06/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2014 12:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas sees slight increase in black and first-year teachers

    Blogs

    A year after the Pinellas County school district was chastised in a state report for clustering inexperienced teachers in the state's most struggling schools, the district has reported a first look at its teacher corps.

    The Pinellas County school district has taken a first look at first-year teachers in struggling schools and minority hiring, both of which ticked slightly upward.
  2. Editorial: Trump owes apology to fallen soldier's Miami family

    Editorials

    There is no more sacred, solemn role for a president than to comfort grieving family members of soldiers who have given their lives in service of their country. Those calls cannot be easy, and some presidents are better at it than others. Yet President Donald Trump and his administration continue to engage in a …

  3. Lightning: Jon Cooper takes unusual tact to create mismatches

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Tyler Johnson is about to swing his left leg over the boards for his next shift alongside linemate Alex Killorn and ... whom else?

    Stamkos? Kucherov? Point?

    Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper argues the called as his team gets a faceoff violation, leading to penalty and #Caps PP goal, during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (10/09/17).DIRK SHADD   |   Times
  4. Hillsborough teachers get a hard no on scheduled pay raises

    Blogs

    The Hillsborough County School District cannot afford to advance teachers to their next year's pay levels, employee relations manager Mark West told the union at Monday afternoon's bargaining session.

    This might be the last teacher bargaining session in Hillsborough for awhile. Although the two sides are not officially at an impasse, the district says it cannot pay teachers their scheduled raises.
  5. Editorial: A neighborhood under attack unites

    Editorials

    Three murders in two weeks understandably have Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood on edge. But Tampa police and residents are working together to find the killer and are connecting in ways that will strengthen the community in the long run. This is the best reaction to the tragedy of the three deaths, and it should …

    Seminole Heights residents came together in a candlelight vigil Sunday night to pay respect to the families and to demonstrate that they will not be cowed into staying indoors.