Producer, CNN Special Investigations Unit
When I felt the searing 98 degree heat and the oppressive 100 percent humidity here, it wasn’t as jarring as it might have been. In fact, it seemed familiar for a very good reason.
Just a year ago I was in the same sort of weather in a town only 40 miles from here: Jena, Louisiana, ground zero for the nation’s largest civil rights demonstrations in a generation.
Then, I was helping to produce stories about what led to the demonstrations - the jailing of a teenager named Mychal Bell.
You might recall, Bell was in a school yard fight in Jena that stemmed from three nooses, hung from a tree in front of the local school. Bell was jailed on a charge of attempted murder in the wake of that fight and five of his classmates were also charged, but not imprisoned.
A year later, I was in Winnfield where one of Mychal Bell’s first cousins, Baron ‘Scooter” Pikes, was the central figure in another case where accusations of racial injustice have been flying.
Last January, the 21-year-old Pikes was struck by a taser gun nine times in less than an hour, after he was arrested on an outstanding warrant alleging possession of crack cocaine.
He was dead on arrival at a local hospital after being hit six times while handcuffed and lying on his stomach, once in the back of a Winnfield police car and twice more on the concrete outside the police department’s headquarters.
It took the local coroner nearly six months to classify the death as a homicide and, as of this writing, no formal charges have been filed by the Winn Parish District Attorney.
There’s an ongoing investigation by the Louisiana State Police and both attorneys for officer involved, Scott Nugent, and the local coroner say they expect a grand jury will be convened sometime in future.
Winnfield is a town with a colorful and notorious past. On the big water tower that rises over the town are colored drawings of two of the area’s most famous, or infamous sons: former governors Earl and Huey Long. Both were larger than life and Huey Long, of course, was the subject of Robert Penn Warren’s book, “All The King’s Men,” which has been turned into two films. There’s a plaque smack in the middle of Winnfield’s downtown that helps you find the law offices both men inhabited when they were here.
This is also a town where everyone pretty much knows everyone else. While taping interviews and shooting incidental footage for our story, we were stopped several times by people who knew one or another figure in this case.
One woman, who didn’t want to be interviewed on camera, had a decal painted on the rear window of her car in honor of Baron Pikes. An elected city official also told us off-camera that he was worried that the demonstrations that took place in Jena could well be duplicated in Winnfield.
The story of what happened to Baron Pikes has been news off and on here since the beginning of the year. But until now, there hasn’t been a great deal of notice in the national press or on television.
That’s changing of course. A reporter for The Chicago Tribune was in town the day before we arrived. And there are a lot of people here who say that they welcome the attention, even if it might augur more turbulence ahead.
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