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Herman Whitfield III's family responds to IMPD's critical incident report, calls for release of all video

Herman Whitfield III's family claims IMPD officers left him in prone position after he said 'I can't breathe'
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Posted at 4:44 PM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-28 18:12:22-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The family of Herman Whitfield III is calling for full transparency from the Indianapolis Police Department and the release of the all bodycam videos from the night he died in police custody.

On Tuesday, IMPD released a 14-minute Critical Incident Video that included recorded 911 calls and video from cameras worn by officers during the April 25 incident that ended in the death of Herman Whitfield III. The video, released by IMPD and edited by a third party vendor, was posted on You Tube. WRTV has requested unedited copies of the body camera video and 911 calls.

A statement issued on behalf of the Whitfield family Tuesday afternoon, calls the IMPD video "a selective and biased account of the events."

"The CIV is biased in that it selectively includes narration and text to present a false narrative of what happened and leaves out important points which should be acknowledged by IMPD, but which the CIV shows," the family's statement reads in part.

"The CIV narration and text are also revealing for what they leave out. While one can clearly hear on the video Herman calling out four times, “I can’t breathe” the narration and included text are silent on this and fail to mention it. While IMPD says its officers are trained to quickly sit restrained individuals up from a prone position to facilitate breathing, the narration and text do not mention this, and do fail to note that officers leave Herman in the prone position with weight on his back for over three minutes until medics arrive."

According to IMPD, police were called to Whitfield's home in the 3700 block of Morrison as he was suffering a mental crisis when officers handcuffed and Tasered him. Whitfield died later at a hospital.

IMPD Chief Randal Taylor declined to comment on the video and would not answer specific questions as to whether he thought the officers followed department policy that night.

Last week, Whitfield's parents filed a lawsuit against IMPD claiming the officers failed to follow department policy aimed at preventing positional asphyxia, a deadly condition that happens when a handcuffed person is placed in a position that makes it hard for them to inhale and exhale. The 39-year-old was a nationally recognized musician and composer.

"The officers’ body cam videos show that shortly after Mr. Whitfield cried, 'I can’t breathe,' the third time, he did not move or breath at all," attorneys for Whitfield's family say in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. "Yet the officers continued to put weight on him for three to four minutes before medics arrived."

Read the full statement issued on behalf of the Whitfield family below.

The family of Herman Whitfield III responds to IMPD’s release of the Critical Incident Video (CIV) with two major points. First, the video is a selective and biased account of the events. Second, the entire body cam videos capturing the events of April 25, 2022, leading to Herman’s death should be released. To date IMPD has refused to release the entirety of the videos to the family or to the public.

The CIV is biased in that it selectively includes narration and text to present a false narrative of what happened and leaves out important points which should be acknowledge by IMPD but which the CIV shows.

For example, the CIV narration and text says that after about 10 minutes of not responding to the officers, Herman rushed into the kitchen and started throwing items around. The only item Herman threw was when he picked up an empty plastic water pitcher, and was told to put it down, and in response he tossed it into the air. He did not throw anything at anybody.

Second, the narration and text says Herman rushed towards an officer, but Herman was simply moving from room to room. Officer Sanchez’s body cam clearly shows the officer laying in wait in the dining room with his taser pointed at the open kitchen door, waiting for Herman to come into the dining room, and then he shot him with the Taser when he did.

Herman did not rush anybody.

The CIV narration and text are also revealing for what they leave out. While one can clearly hear on the video Herman calling out four times, “I can’t breathe” the narration and included text are silent on this and fail to mention it. While IMPD says its officers are trained to quickly sit restrained individuals up from a prone position to facilitate breathing, the narration and text do not mention this, and do fail to note that officers leave Herman in the prone position with weight on his back for over three minutes until medics arrive.

Mr. Whitfield did not present a danger to the officers, and there was no need to taser him. Moreover, the officers violated their own training in keeping Mr. Whitfield handcuffed face down after he was restrained, and after he had told them he couldn’t breathe, and when he was not moving or breathing, which led to this death.

For over twenty-five years, the policing community has agreed that officers should not keep a restrained individual in the prone position because of the significant risk of positional asphyxia, i.e., suffocation because of body position. Mr. Whitfield, who was in his family home, needed professional mental health care, not the use of excessive deadly force.

The Whitfield family calls on IMPD to honestly respond to these important issues and not present a biased and false narrative of Herman’s death. All body cam videos should be released, and IMPD should honestly respond to the misconduct of its officers which led to Herman’s death

The incident is being investigated by IMPD's Internal Affairs Unit and the Critical Incident Response Team. The Marion County Prosecutor's Office is being consulted throughout the investigation, the department said.

While IMPD released part of the body camera videos on Tuesday, the department hasn’t released the full, unedited videos.

On May 3, IMPD denied WRTV's requests for body camera videos citing an open investigation.

On Tuesday, after IMPD released part of the videos to the public, WRTV submitted another records request again requesting all of the full, unedited body camera videos. We are still awaiting a formal response.

WRTV also requested all 911 calls and dispatch notes from the incident, but the request was denied because the records are considered to be “investigatory records.”

“IMPD, as a general rule, does not release such documents without a subpoena,” an email from IMPD read.

You can watch the video that was edited and released by IMPD below or in the video player above.
Viewer discretion is advised.

whitfield wrtv video.m4v

WRTV Digital Reporter Vic Ryckaert contributed to this report.

More | Man who died in police custody was talented Indianapolis musician | IMPD's MCAT program offers emergency mental health resources | IMPD names officers involved in the in-custody death of gifted pianist | Mayor, IMPD chief, clergy want cops to stop going on mental health calls. Why isn't it happening? | 'Our job is to protect people from themselves': State's top cop talks tackling mental health crisis | 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