Black clergy calls for IMPD officers to be fired; city to implement clinician-led mobile crisis team after man died in custody

By WTHR.com staff

Faith in Indiana’s Black Church Coalition, along with the Union District Caucus, the Ministerium, and LIVE FREE, are calling the prosecution of the IMPD officers that took Herman Whitfield III into custody. Whitfield died in police custody April 25.

The groups are asking for the officers involved to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and for Indianapolis city leaders to scale up clinician-led mobile crisis teams across the city.

The April 25 death happened after officers were called to a disturbance at a home in the 3700 block of Marrison Place, near North Sherman Drive and East 42nd Street, around 3:20 a.m. A man told officers his son was “having a psychosis” and asked for an ambulance, which was then called to the home. 

According to IMPD, 39-year-old Herman Whitfield III was bleeding from the mouth and was moving around the home, naked and sweating. Officers lost sight of him several times. 

IMPD claims officers used de-escalation techniques, negotiating with Whitfield until he “moved quickly towards an officer.” One of the officers deployed a stun device, but police said Whitfield continued to resist.

Proper IMPD procedure requires officers to give a verbal warning before using a stun gun when possible, then aiming below the chest and heart when pulling the trigger. IMPD originally said one of the stun gun’s probes hit Whitfield in the chest. But in a revised release days later, IMPD said the probe actually hit Whitfield in the abdomen. IMPD said that revised information comes from the autopsy and review of officers’ body-worn cameras.

Whitfield was eventually restrained using two pairs of handcuffs. IMPD said linking two pairs of handcuffs typically provides “more comfort to larger individuals.” Whitfield was approximately 6’2″ tall and weighed 280 pounds, according to police.

An IMPD public information officer said, “once the man was detained, medics, who had been waiting outside for the scene to be safe to enter, were requested to come inside the home. At that point, medics asked the man to roll over and he did not respond. After medics checked for a pulse, Whitfield was unhandcuffed, and medics and several officers administered CPR.”

Whitfield was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

Faith in Indiana is asking for the officers involved to be fired. It also wants a pilot clinician-led mobile crisis team by the end of the year with plans to scale them up, across the city, by next summer.

“The bottom line: Anyone calling for help in a crisis should be met with care,” said Josh Riddick, Faith in Indiana organizer. “That’s why we’re urging Mayor Hogsett to fast track plans, and scale-up clinician-led mobile crisis team so trained professionals can respond to mental health calls, each and every time.”

Multiple investigations are underway, including a criminal probe and one by IMPD internal affairs. The civilian-majority Use of Force Review Board will investigate the officers’ use of force after other investigations have been completed.

IMPD tweeted a statement about the investigation Monday evening.

“IMPD continues to investigate the death of Herman Whitfield III. We will release additional information, including body-worn camera footage, once it has gone through all the necessary steps to ensure it can be released to community stakeholders and the public. Until then, IMPD will continue to follow the investigative process while remaining committed to a precedent of transparency set by prior critical incidents.

IMPD has a responsibility to our officers, Mr. Whitfield’s family, and the community to only draw conclusions once all information regarding the investigation has been presented to the Chief and the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.”

The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave. They were identified as patrol officers Steven Sanchez (two-year veteran), Adam Ahmad (two-year veteran), Matthew Virt (two-year veteran), Dominique Clark (five-year veteran), Jordan Bull (seven-year veteran) and recruit trainee Nicholas Mathew (with IMPD since August 2021).

Data from the stun gun was downloaded and will be used as part of the investigation.

The video recorded by the officers’ body-worn cameras will be released in the coming days or weeks.

Whitfield was a composer and pianist. He was even featured in a video by Indy Arts Council in 2009.

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