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IMPD names officers involved in the in-custody death of gifted pianist

City leader calls for expanding crisis teams
Posted at 5:58 PM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 18:20:43-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department on Friday identified the officers who were involved in the arrest this week that led to the death of a gifted pianist who was suffering a mental break.

Herman Whitfield III, 39, was “having a psychosis” when Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers were called to his northeast-side home early Monday morning, the department said in a news release.

The six officers involved are Steven Sanchez, Adam Ahmad, Matthew Virt, Dominique Clark, Jordan Bull and Nicholas Mathew, IMPD said in a news release Friday.

Sanchez and Ahmad have been with the department for a little more than two years; Virt has been on IMPD for nearly three years; Bull has been on the force for nearly eight years and Mathew is a recruit trainee with less than a year of service.

The officers will remain on administrative leave until they complete officer wellness assessments and the chief and executive staff complete a preliminary review of the incident.

Officers used a Taser on Whitfield, 39, before they subdued and secured him in a double pair of handcuffs, IMPD said. The Taser prongs struck Whitfield on the left side of his abdomen, IMPD said. The department previously said the device hit Whitfield's chest. The Marion County coroner's office has not yet released a cause of death.

Whitfield, neighbors told WRTV, was a loving man who brought people together with his music. He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio and the Cleveland Institute of Music, according to his biography on indyartsguide.org.

Oberlin College officials praised then 20-year-old Whitfield in a 2003 news release after his work premiered with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

"Herman is a natural musician, with an instinctive sense of melodic and harmonic line," Professor of Pianoforte Peter Takács said in the news release. "He creates marvelous colors at the piano with an unusually delicate touch... I expect he will develop into a brilliant and original performer."

IMPD and the Health and Hospital Corp. have teamed up since 2017 to staff Mobile Crisis Assistance Teams (MCAT) to send a specially trained police officer and a behavioral health professional to a run involving someone with a mental illness, instead of sending only police officers and medics. Those teams are not staffed on night and weekends.

"Many community members, including myself, have been asking and demanding policy changes from IMPD/MCAT," City-Council member Ethan Evans said Thursday in a statement posted on Facebook,.

Evans cited three other cases since 2015 in which people with apparent mental illness died after encounters with IMPD officers and said it is time for the community to increase the hours that MCAT is available.

"At the very least, there needs to be a non-police response to mental health calls," Evans said.

According to IMPD, Whitfield's parents called 911 ab out 3:20 a.m. Monday to say their son was in mental distress.

Officers arrived at the home in the 3700 block of Marrison Place and Whitfield's father said his son was "having a psychosis" and needed an ambulance.

Officers said Whitfield was moving around the home naked, sweating and bleeding from the mouth.

Police spent more than 10 minutes talking to Whitfield, trying to calm him down and deescalate the situation, IMPD said. Police said 6-foot, 2-inch Whitfield "moved quickly towards an officer" and the officer fired his Taser, which struck Whitfield in the left abdomen.

The officer deploying two jolts from the Taser and Whitfield continued to resist, police said.

Police subdued Whitfield, the news release doesn't say how, and placed him in double handcuffs.

When medics entered after the scene was secured, Whitfield was unresponsive. The handcuffs were removed and medics performed CPR as they took Whitfield to the hospital, where he later died.

Through a spokesperson, IMPD Chief Randal Taylor declined WRTV's request for an interview.

Curt Brantingham, a spokesman for the Health and Hospital Corp,. said he was working on providing a statement about the MCAT program.

Mark Bode, a spokesman for Mayor Joe Hogset, said "Hogsett pledged to implement a clinician-led response pilot to better understand the benefits and financial impacts of such a program (MCAT). We are still identifying the source and size of that funding but remain committed to innovative, comprehensive solutions to support those experiencing mental health challenges."

Data from the Taser has been downloaded and will be part of the investigation, IMPD said.

WRTV has requested copies of body camera footage and recordings of 911 calls of the incident.

IMPD said Internal Affairs, the Use of Force Board and the Marion County Prosecutor's Office are investigating the incident. Indiana State Police, the FBI and The U.S. Attorney's Office are ready to assist if needed, IMPD said.

More: Man who died in police custody was talented Indianapolis musician | IMPD's MCAT program offers emergency mental health resources

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