INDIANAPOLIS — Approximately 50 supporters rallied in the rain Monday on Monument Circle in support of the family of Herman Whitfield III, the northeast side man who died last April after his parents called Indianapolis police to respond to a mental health crisis at their home.
Raw police body-worn camera video released over the weekend showed that Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers spent 10 minutes trying to convince Whitfield to cooperate and accompany them to a hospital when suddenly he began screaming and running throughout the home.
That’s when an IMPD officer leveled his conducted electrical weapon and fired twice, attempting to stun Whitfield into submission.
The 6’2”, nearly 300-pound man hit the floor as officers pounced and struggled to handcuff him.
Immediately, the video shows Whitfield complaining that he couldn’t breathe and shouting, “I’m dying.”
After he is subdued, Whitfield is presided over by a trio of officers who apparently never check his pulse or breathing, leading a paramedic to begin CPR when she arrives on the scene three minutes later.
Whitfield was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
”They acted maliciously and sadistically and brutally in his murder,” said Herman Whitfield, II, who met officers at his door that morning and immediately advised they should be calling for an ambulance. ”Yes, there was fear and there was just no justice at all in what the officers did in their actions. They followed my son throughout the house no matter where he went to avoid them. They cornered him as if he was some kind of caged animal and electrocuted him and just suffocated him.”
The Whitfields stood on the edge of the Circle in a cold rain as supporters marched and chanted.
”Our son didn’t charge them or do anything to deserve what he received,” said Gladys Whitfield. ”So I don’t understand in our son’s case why they only took a few minutes before they decided to electrocute him and suffocate him when he didn’t run towards them, he was trying to get away from them.”
Two weeks ago, at a church service marking the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Mayor Joe Hogsett told leaders of Indianapolis’ faith-based community that he was proud that one of the City’s 2023 public safety priorities, “includes an emphasis on access to mental health services like a new clinician-led emergency response team to supplant a traditional 911 response.”
The Whitfield family is seeking monetary damages plus systemic training and practice changes from IMPD as part of its federal civil rights lawsuit against the City and the department.
”We want the Mobile Crisis Assistance Team to be available 24 hours. As a matter of fact, that’s one of our demands,” said family attorney Israel Nunez Cruz who also cited IMPD General Orders that direct how officers should respond to mental health, apprehension and use of force incidents. ”The officers still acted against their own orders, and that’s why we are here today. That’s why Herman Whitfield III is still dead because they could’ve taken their time in handling Herman. They could’ve taken their time. There was no real sense of urgency because no one was in danger.”
The body-worn camera video clearly demonstrates it was a probationary officer, less than one year out of the IMPD Training Academy and not involved in the takedown of Whitfield, who asks senior officers on the scene, “Do you guys want to leave him on his stomach or roll him to his side?”
“No,” answers the officer with his hand on Whitfield’s shoulder. “I don’t want him to get up again.”
Cruz said not only the rookie officer’s inquiry but IMPD’s training and practices will be examined in the family’s lawsuit.
”What’s really interesting is he’s just out of the academy, so maybe he remembered his orders and understood that that was supposed to happen and the more seasoned officer said, ‘No, I want him down.’”
That officer’s refusal to uncuff Whitfield and check his condition mystifies Whitfield Sr.
”He didn’t want him to get up to turn over. He didn’t want him to get up and take another breath of life. He didn’t want him to get up at all to have a chance at life again. How can that be interpreted as he sat on him?”
IMPD issued a statement this weekend reiterating that it does not comment on pending litigation and that when its internal reviews and criminal investigations are completed, the civilian-majority Use of Force Board will examine the case and make recommendations to Chief Randal Taylor on whether to fire or discipline officers.
Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears is also conducting a separate investigation to determine if the officers acted with criminal intent that night.