INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis police on Tuesday released some of the body cam video and other evidence in the April 25 incident that ended in the death of Herman Whitfield III, a gifted pianist who was suffering a mental crisis.
The department released a 14-minute Critical Incident Video that included recorded 911 calls and video from cameras worn by officers who responded to Whitfield's northeast-side home in the 3700 block of Marrison Place. The edited video was posted on You Tube. WRTV has requested unedited copies of the body camera video and 911 calls.
On Monday, WRTV asked IMPD Chief Randal Taylor about the timing of the release. Initially, the department said body camera video would be released following the final results of Whitfield's autopsy. As of the time of their video release, the autopsy was still pending.
"The community has asked that we release the video with what we have so it took a little while. It's still not not complete, so that's the reason for the delay," Taylor said.
Taylor added that he was listening to community members who have called for transparency in this investigation.
"The whole purpose of of sharing these videos is for transparency," Taylor said. "We want to make sure that the community is aware of what we're doing — that we're not hiding anything."
The video doesn't answer all the questions surrounding Whitfield's death, Taylor said.
"In this case, nobody really knows why this gentleman died," Taylor said. "So until that autopsy is complete, and that report is complete, we won't really know."
The Whitfield family called for full transparency and demanded that IMPD release all bodycam videos from the night he died in police custody.
"The CIV (critical Incident Video) 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 Whitfield family's lawyers said in a statement.
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."
According to IMPD, police were called to Whitfield's northeast-side home as he was suffering a mental crisis when officers handcuffed and Tasered him on April 25. Whitfield died later at a hospital.
IMPD Chief 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.
The Office of Public Health and Safety Director, Lauren Rodriguez, also declined comment on the video or specifics to the case. However, she said the city is evaluating ways to better respond to mental illness and substance abuse calls.
"This has been an ongoing issue that we've been trying to address," Rodriguez said. "We are listening and we are taking that in and we are trying to establish relationships that will help our community."
The city is working to form new clinician-led teams that will respond to non-violent mental health calls, including those relating to homelessness, intoxication or disorientation. The goal is to keep police officers out of situations where a person needs help more than handcuffs.
The incident that led to Whitfield's death 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.
Lt. Shane Foley, a spokesman for IMPD, said the critical incident video was edited and produced by a private contractor. You can watch the video that was released by IMPD below. Viewer discretion is advised.
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc
WRTV Reporter Nikki DeMentri and Senior Digital Content Producer Andrew Smith 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 | Herman Whitfield III's family responds to IMPD's critical incident report, calls for release of all video