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Expert says IMPD 'did not abide by generally accepted police practices' in Herman Whitfield death

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Posted at 5:05 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 18:16:40-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A national expert in police use-of-force told WRTV that the officers "did not abide by generally accepted police practices" when they kept Herman Whitfield III handcuffed and face-down before he died in their custody.

Seth Stoughton, the University of South Carolina law professor who provided key testimony in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin — the former officer accused of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis — said the edited video of the incident appears to show officers left Whitfield on his belly too long.

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Seth Stoughton, University of South Carolina law professor and expert in police use of force.

"The notation on the video says that the handcuffs are secure at about 11:24 in the video. Anything beyond that is too long," said Stoughton, who reviewed the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's Critical Incident Video of Whitfield's arrest at WRTV's request.

"From this limited review, it appears that the officers did not abide by generally accepted police practices."

IMPD released the 14-minute video in June as public calls for transparency surrounding Whitfield's death intensified. Whitfield died after his parents called 911 seeking help for a disturbance. His family told officers Whitfield was suffering a mental health crisis and asked for an ambulance.

The video's release came just days after Whitfield's parents filed a lawsuit against IMPD claiming the officers failed to follow department policy when they Tasered and subdued their son on April 25.

This video, posted on You Tube, was edited by a third party and included recorded 911 calls, body camera footage, captions and narration.

From the video released by IMPD, it's impossible to tell how long Whitfield was on his stomach in handcuffs before the medics arrived.

Those portions of body camera video were cut from the edited version and not included in the footage released by IMPD. WRTV has requested unedited copies of the body camera video and 911 calls.

A narrator in that video tells viewers that "medics entered the home approximately three minutes later. When Mr. Whitfield was rolled over, he was unresponsive."

"Herman was undergoing a mental health crisis," Rich Waples, a lawyer for the Whitfield family, said. "He wasn't physically in harm or danger until the officers got there."

IMPD said officers used a Taser on Whitfield before subduing him inside his home in the 3700 block of Marrison Place.

In a federal lawsuit, the family claims Whitfield said “I can’t breathe” three or four times as officers put pressure on his back and kept him handcuffed, face-down on a floor.

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Herman Whitfield III poses during a promo shoot for the 2009 Art & Soul.

"They only took about 10 minutes, I think, before they tased him and then got on top of him and handcuffed him," Waples said. "Despite him saying he couldn't breathe at least three times they kept him handcuffed in prone position with weight on top of him."

IMPD Chief Randal Taylor wouldn't answer specific questions as to whether he thought the officers followed department policy that night.

The officers are on administrative duty pending the outcomes of internal investigations, IMPD said.

"Based on a careful review of the facts and the Use of Force Board’s feedback, Chief Taylor will consider discipline up to a recommendation of termination to the IMPD Civilian Police Merit Board," an IMPD news release states.

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc

RELATED | Herman Whitfield III's family, community call for IMPD to release full, unedited body camera video | Herman Whitfield III's death: What we know about the gifted pianist who died in IMPD custody | Herman Whitfield III's family responds to IMPD's critical incident report, calls for release of all video | IMPD releases body cam video in Herman Whitfield III's in-custody death | Family claims man died of positional asphyxia: 'You don't keep someone prone after they've been handcuffed' | Family says IMPD ignored man’s cries saying ‘I can’t breathe’ before he died in custody | Coroner: Herman Whitfield III's death in IMPD custody was a homicide