Family, faith leaders demand unedited body camera footage in Herman Whitfield III’s death

By Jake Allen | Indianapolis Star

Indianapolis faith leaders and family members continued to call on the city’s police department Friday to release the full, unedited body camera footage of the police encounter from before Herman Whitfield III’s death.  

Whitfield, 39, died April 25 after being tased and handcuffed by officers from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department at his parent’s home on the northeast side of the city.  

Police published a nearly 14-minute video Tuesday narrating the moments leading up to Whitfield’s death and piecing together portions of the body camera footage from among the five responding officers and one recruit trainee.   

“What we saw a few days ago released by IMPD is unacceptable,” said Dr. Carlos Perkins of Bethel Cathedral A.M.E. Church at a rally Friday. “(It was) a highly edited footage of an incident that lasted almost 45 minutes. What we are demanding is for the unedited body cam to be released to the community.”  

Perkins was joined at the rally, outside Indianapolis City Market, by community members and Whitfield’s parents. Perkins called on Mayor Joe Hogsett to take action and ensure the release of the full, unedited body camera footage from IMPD.  

“At this point, we don’t have faith in the police chief that he can be transparent with the community, so we are calling on our elected officials,” Perkins said. “We are calling on the mayor to release this body cam so that the community can be clear.”  

The mayor’s office and IMPD referred to previous statements and information released by the police department when asked for comment for this article.

IMPD Chief Randal Taylor previously told IndyStar full body camera footage from officers in such instances must go through court proceedings before they are released.  

Critical incident videos, such as the one released by the department Tuesday, are routinely published by the department, typically after a police-involved shooting. 

Tuesday’s critical incident video depicting Whitfield’s death is different from previous videos as it it does not make abundantly clear how the man died, Taylor said.  

“In pretty much all the videos in the past, you kind of get an idea of what happened,” Taylor said. “This one is different from the standpoint – you can watch this video and you will still not know what caused this man’s death.”   

Taylor said an autopsy report for Whitfield has not been completed, as he hoped to include the results from the report in the video, but said the community has asked to see the footage and officials decided to publish the video without that information. 

Black Church Coalition of Faith in Indiana calls for release of autopsy report

Leaders from the Black Church Coalition of Faith in Indiana also called on the Marion County Coroner’s Office to release the full autopsy report for Whitfield III at Friday’s rally.

“We need to see what really happened that caused the death of a brother, a son and one of our own,” Perkins said. “We stand together as a coalition to say we demand the right thing, now.”  

Marion County Chief Deputy Coroner Alfarena McGinty said most complex investigations take up to 12 weeks to complete and noted it has been about eight weeks since Whitfield’s death. 

“In-custody deaths are by far the most difficult and time consuming cases for our staff due to the level of detail that must go into the reports and the overall investigations,” McGinty said in an emailed statement. 

The coroner’s office is continuing to work on the Whitfield case quickly but will not rush and will ensure a thorough investigation into the man’s death is completed, McGinty said.

“A full 8-12 page autopsy report takes time,” McGinty said, adding she would release the report to the family upon completion.

The IndyStar has requested an autopsy report from the Marion County Coroner’s Office regarding Whitfield’s death.

Rally leaders want 24/7 mental health crisis intervention team

Leaders at the rally Friday also demanded the immediate implementation of a 24/7 crisis intervention team to assist people having mental health crises in the city.  

Indianapolis currently has Mobile Crisis Assistant Teams (MCAT) consisting of an officer trained on crisis intervention and a clinician who respond to certain situations. Currently, those teams only operate on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.   

“It’s been eight weeks since Herman Whitfield was killed while having a mental health crisis and our city hasn’t made any significant changes on how we show up to mental health crises,” said Rev. Shauna Lipscomb of Community Church Indy. “What’s keeping this situation from happening again?” 

Lipscomb has a son with mental health problems, who was having a crisis the evening before the rally around 6:30 p.m. She didn’t know if she should reach out for help since she knew the MCAT team would be unavailable at that hour, Lipscomb said.  

“We have had help from the MCAT team (in the past) but unfortunately it was 6:30 p.m. and the clinician-lead team is not available after 5 p.m.,” Lipscomb said. “We are convinced a clinician-lead response team is the answer, but we can no longer wait. Lives are at stake. We are demanding help and not handcuffs.” 

Indianapolis’ Office of Public Health and Safety said they are in the early stages of building a clinician-led program that could respond to calls 24 hours, seven days a week.   

“We have been working on laying that foundation and building that program out and how it will look,”  Lauren Rodriguez, director of the Office of Public Health and Safety, previously told IndyStar. “Right now, we’re definitely in the building phase.”   

‘Herman was unnecessarily tased,’ man’s father says. 

Herman Whitfield Jr. told attendees at the rally that his son told police he couldn’t breathe after he was tasered and handcuffed by police. 

“Herman was unnecessarily tased,” Herman Whitfield Jr. said. “I was only standing two or three feet away from him. He was unnecessarily tasered. He wasn’t doing anything at all to threaten the officers.” 

The video released by police starts by showing Whitfield’s mother calling 911 asking for help for her son, saying he “was having some sort of episode.” A man purported to be Whitfield is heard yelling in the back. Whitfield’s mother said he’s never been diagnosed with anything.   

As police arrived about 3:20 a.m., Whitfield’s father is heard telling them at the front door his son was experiencing a “psychosis,” and asked for an ambulance. Officers encountered Whitfield naked and bleeding from the mouth.

Police in the narrated video said Whitfield moved throughout the home for the next 10 minutes. At one point, a clip from a body camera showed Whitfield moving from a bedroom into the home’s kitchen, which was dark. A scream can be heard, as well as the clattering of what’s assumed to be dishes and pans. 

Police in the video said Whitfield began throwing things at this time. The family in a news release responded that Whitfield had picked up an empty water pitcher and tossed it into the air.  

Shortly after, the body camera footage from one of the officers, identified as Steven Sanchez, shows him in the living room with his taser out and pointed. Whitfield, who is mostly blurred, is then seen coming into the frame. Sanchez then deploys the taser.   

The footage shows Whitfield falling to the ground, pulling a tablecloth from the table as he falls, crying out “fire, fire.”

Police placed Whitfield in two pairs of handcuffs from behind as he laid on his stomach. Whitfield can be heard speaking, but he is muffled. The family, in a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed last week regarding the encounter, said Whitfield at that point was telling officers he couldn’t breathe.   

After several moments, Whitfield becomes still and quiet.   

Three minutes later, the video said, medics came into the room. Whitfield was unresponsive when police rolled him over. Medics took Whitfield to a hospital where he died shortly after arriving. 

“He was just a wonderful overall young man,” Herman Whitfield Jr. said of his son on Friday. “He was respectful and a musical genius. The world just lost a great gift.” 

Indianapolis police’s Critical Incident Response Team is investigating Whitfield’s death in custody, as well as the department’s Internal Affairs Unit. Police said the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office is being consulted throughout the investigation.   

When the criminal investigation finishes, the encounter will be reviewed by the civilian-majority use of force review board. 

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