Black faith leaders call for firing, prosecution of police involved in Whitfield death

By Lawrence Andrea | Indianapolis Star

Leaders in Indianapolis’ Black faith community on Monday called for the immediate termination of the officers involved of in the death of a man suffering an apparent mental health crisis last month — claiming the officers should be prosecuted despite not having reviewed body camera footage of the encounter.

“We know that when a family calls for help and an unarmed man ends up dead, policy wasn’t being followed,” said Josh Riddick, a community organizer for Faith In Indiana, who spearheaded the news conference.

The demands came two weeks after 39-year-old Herman Whitfield III died inside his parents’ northeast Indianapolis home after he was tased by an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer during a mental health crisis. Whitfield’s father told officers his son was “having a psychosis” and needed an ambulance, police said, and Whitfield was tased when he “moved quickly towards an officer.”

A man tased during a mental health crisis died in custody. Advocates say that raises questions

Faith leaders on Monday told IndyStar they had not seen body camera footage from the encounter. Still, they demanded the five IMPD patrol officers and the one recruit trainee involved be prosecuted because nobody “experiencing a mental health crisis should end up dead.”

“We have been around this too many times,” said Pastor Carlos Perkins, of Bethel Cathedral A.M.E. Church. “This is not a one-off incident. This (has) become a culture of those that are in power.”

“What we must do as community leaders,” Perkins added, “is to hold them responsible for when they take advantage and there’s situations where members of our community end up dead.”

An IMPD spokesperson declined to comment on the demands and did not answer questions about whether Chief Randal Taylor plans to recommend the officers’ terminations. In Indianapolis, an officer cannot be fired from the force until the Civilian Police Merit Board can consider the chief’s recommendation. That only happens after the conclusion of a criminal investigation.

The department in a tweet Monday evening said the events that led to Whitfield’s death remain under investigation.

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

Police last week identified the officers involved in Whitfield’s death as Steven Sanchez, Adam Ahmad, Matthew Virt, Dominique Clark, Jordan Bull and recruit trainee Nicholas Mathew. They have all been placed on administrative leave.

Body camera footage from the April 25 encounter, requested by IndyStar, has not yet been released by police. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office said the encounter “remains under investigation at this time.”

Whitfield’s family has not spoken publicly about the events, and members of Faith In Indiana said the family has indicated they do not wish to speak until after the man’s funeral.

Herman Whitfield III performs at the Indianapolis Arts Garden on Feb. 13, 2009. Whitfield died while in police custody after being tased April 25, 2022.

Clinician-led mental health response

The faith leaders during the news conference also reiterated their demands for a clinician-led mobile crisis response team.

Police should not respond to non-violent situations involving mental health crises, community advocates have maintained. Indianapolis currently has Mobile Crisis Assistant Teams, consisting of an officer trained on crisis intervention and a clinician, to respond to certain situations, but those teams only operate on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has pledged to create a clinician-led team in the city, but city officials told IndyStar plans for that pledge are still being worked out. Advocates on Monday said they want to finalize those details in the next 30 days.

At the news conference, those advocates highlighted Whitfield’s skill at the piano.

“Today we are here protesting the cause of his death when we should be celebrating his musical genius,” said New Revelations Christian Church Pastor Richard Reynolds.

Contact Lawrence Andrea at 317-775-4313 or landrea@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter @lawrencegandrea.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Herman Whitfield III: Black clergy call for prosecution of police

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