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Family holds memorial on Herman Whitfield III's 40th birthday

"I just want justice for my son."
Posted at 12:48 PM, Oct 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-30 16:03:53-04

INDIANAPOLIS — "We still feel the emotion of the whole thing like it happened yesterday. We're just coping and holding on," Herman Whitfield, Jr. said.

His son, Herman Whitfield III, died in IMPD custody in April. On Saturday, his parents held a memorial on what would have been their son's 40th birthday.

"May the city of Indianapolis remember Herman's name. May the world remember and enjoy his music," Indianapolis Youth Orchestra founder Susan Kitterman said. "I will never forget my friend, my student, my teacher, Herman Whitfield III."

Whitfield III was a gifted pianist and composer. His death reverberated across the classical music world nationwide. Gladys Whitfield, Herman's mother, read a statement from Durham Symphony's Maestro, William Henry Curry.

"As a person, Herman was brilliant, charming and modest. As a composer, it was clear to everyone that his work and title Scherzo #2 was a masterpiece," he wrote.

On the night he died, Whitfield III was experiencing a mental health crisis and his parents called 911 for help.

MORE: Herman Whitfield III's death: What we know about the gifted pianist who died in IMPD custody |IMPD releases body cam video in Herman Whitfield III's in-custody death

"Instead, he was tased unnecessarily, brutally thrown to the ground, handcuffed, hands behind his back, and he was kept in that position, even after he said he couldn't breathe," Richard Waples, the family's attorney, said.

The Marion County Coroner ruled Whitfield III's death a homicide. The family is suing the cityand all six officers involved for wrongful death.

"The family wants the same demands that they issued at the very beginning of this case, for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police to take accountability for what has happened here," Waples said.

The Whitfields are asking for the full, unedited body camera footage to be released publicly, for the officers involved to face appropriate consequences and for the city to expand emergency mental health services.

"Let's be clear, Herman Whitfield III is not with us today because our society has criminalized mental health, especially when people of color are the ones needing care," Rep. Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) said.

"Police are asking for the community to stand by them when a crime is committed. I just think that should go both ways," said Whitfield Jr. "I just think the people who promote justice should stand for justice for all. I just want justice for my son."

IMPD declined to comment for this story. The department does not comment on pending litigation.

To learn more about the Whitfield family's fight for justice, visit the website Justice for Herman Whitfield, III.

You can read Curry's full statement below.

Dear Friends of the Whitfields-

My name is William Henry Curry. I am a conductor/composer who in 2009 became the African American conductor of a symphony orchestra in the South. I have lived for the last 27 years in Raleigh, North Carolina.

From 1983 to1988 I was the Resident Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

in 2003 I was invited back to this city to conduct a concert of classical music. During my years here, I had a very close friend named Linda Miller, now deceased. Linda told me of her friend and co-worker, Gladys Whitfield, whose 25 year old son Herman was an excellent pianist and a budding composer. I reached out to Herman to see if he had written a work for orchestra. He had, and he immediately sent me the music. As I studied it, I was stunned. It was a superb and mature work that someone twice his age would have been proud to have written.

I included it on my concert program and worked with Herman during the rehearsals and got to know his wonderful parents. As a person, Herman was brilliant, charming and modest. As a composer, it was apparent to everyone that his work, titled Scherzo No. 2, was a masterpiece. It created a sensation at the concerts and received a standing ovation.

As someone who has devoted his professional life to promoting great music, I am beyond consolation knowing there will be no new masterpieces coming from the mind of this young musical genius.

I want to express my deepest condolences to his parents and all of you. Though we cannot fully imagine the grief of his parents, I think most of us have experienced a situation where we were challenged to endure something that seemed to be beyond endurance. Death is the most haunting and challenging of these painful events. When bad things happen to good people there is no understanding or justifying it. The loss of a loved one is a tragic part of our life-journey that brings with it dark thoughts that can lead our mind to dark places and negative thoughts. However, God points us to a positive destination where we will embrace acceptance and regain our spiritual serenity.

In finding Peace, it is essential that we both preserve ourselves and our faith that in helping others, we are acting as earth angels.  We honor today the brief but blessed life of the earth angel whose name was Herman Whitfield III. His spirit is eternal, and today he is saying to us, as we say in North Carolina; Keep on keepin' on.

May God bless us all and the memory of Herman Whitfield III.

William Henry Curry