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Man who died in police custody was talented Indianapolis musician

Posted at 8:19 PM, Apr 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-27 13:18:30-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A call for help Monday morning from the parents of Herman Whitfield III took a devastating turn when he died in police custody.

Neighbors say the 39-year-old was a loving man who brought everyone together by playing the piano — something that they now say will be missed.

Whitfield's family says he was a true musician who had won several awards for his performances.

A 911 call on Monday morning by Whitfield's parents revealed he was in mental distress and requested an ambulance.

When IMPD officers arrived at the home, they said Whitfield was moving around the home naked, sweating and bleeding from the mouth.

After more than 10 minutes of negotiating and using de-escalation tactics, IMPD said Whitfield quickly moved toward an officer, and a Taser was deployed on him twice. After the Taser deployment, Whitfield was allegedly still resisting arrest and was double handcuffed.

IMPD's report then states that when medics got inside the home after the scene was secure, they found Whitfield unresponsive. His handcuffs were taken off and they performed CPR on him as he was taken to the hospital.

Whitfield later died at a hospital. His cause of death is remains under investigation.

"My heart breaks for that mother and the father," a neighbor, who has asked not to be identified, told WRTV's Rachael Wilkerson. "They were having a situation that was beyond their control. (They) call the cops and unfortunately, the worst happens. So my prayers really go out to them."

According to IMPD's use of force policy regarding tasers or electronic control devices, officers will "attempt to target a subject below the chest or heart area or from the shoulders down on the back of a subject."

In this case, IMPD said at least one of the two prongs from the officer's taser struck Whitfield in the chest.

In March, WRTV spoke with a detective on IMPD's Mobile Crisis Assistance Team (MCAT). The detective said MCAT officers work Monday through Friday and aren't always called to a scene for mental health incidents.

Although MCAT was not on duty when the call from the Whitfield residence came in, and were not called to the scene, IMPD says all officers are trained to intervene in a crisis.

All officers directly involved in the incident involving Whitfield have been placed on administrative leave. Body cameras were activated during the incident, according to IMPD, and WRTV has requested a copy of that body camera footage along with the 911 call from that time period.

IMPD says their Critical Incident Response Team did respond to the scene to conduct a criminal investigation. Their Internal Affairs office and the Indianapolis-Marion County Forensic Services agency are also investigating. Whitfield's exact cause of death remains under investigation and will be determined Marion County Coroner.

The Civilian-Majority use of force review board is conducting a review of the officer's use of force. This will occur after the conclusion of the criminal and administrative investigations are complete.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett released the following statement following the incident.

"Our thoughts are with the friends and family of the individual who died on Monday morning," Hogsett said. "Yesterday's events only strengthen our resolve to continue working with the community on this critical issue. Further information regarding the incident and investigation will come from IMPD."