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'They regret ever calling the police': Herman Whitfield III's death ruled a homicide

Posted at 7:22 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 21:37:55-04

INDIANAPOLIS — INDIANAPOLIS — The death of 39-year-old Herman Whitfield III, who died while in IMPD custody, has been ruled as a homicide.

His family called police for help as Whitefield was suffering a mental health crisis.

WRTV received a copy of the Marion County Coroner's Office autopsy results from the family's attorneys.

The autopsy report shows electrical weapon use, and the position he was lying in, while overweight and handcuffed played a role in his death.

"His heart and his lungs stopped working while he was being subdued by the law enforcement officers in a prone restraint and after he had been tasered," Attorney Richard Waples said.

Attorney Richard Waples is speaking on behalf of Herman Whitfield III's family.

They say his death should have never happened in police custody.

"He was a wonderful son to them. He was undergoing some psychosis He needed some intervention, some help and they called and they called and asked for help and they regret every calling the police. They are just devastated," Waples said.

Whitfield's mother called 911 for help around 3 a.m. on April 25 claiming her son was having a mental health crisis.

The city's Mobile Crisis Assistance Team who responds to mental health, substance use and medical crises were off the clock.

IMPD responded while paramedics waited outside.

Edited body camera footage released last month, shows IMPD tasering Whitfield twice, handcuffing him behind his back and applying pressure as he lies face down on the floor.

The family says Whitfield gasped saying "I can't breathe" multiple times.

"I've listened to those audios and watched the body camera video," Waples said. "You can hear Herman clearly say that three times at least and maybe a fourth time before he goes silent and before he doesn't move at all. The officers who were right there they should have heard that. They should get him up right away."

Waples said the officers violated the department's policy aimed at the way people are positioned while handcuffed to prevent death from asphyxiation.

In June, Whitfield's parents and their lawyers filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Indianapolis and the six police officers involved.

"Even if he didn't say [I can't breathe] all the warning signs were there. It doesn't matter if person says anything," Waples said. "You get them up right away. You don't leave them down. Every law enforcement officer should know that."

Waples said all of the officers in the room could be held responsible because they didn't intervene.

"This didn't have to happen. It doesn't need to happen in the future," Waples said.

The Whitfield family is calling on the department to release the full, unedited body camera footage, expand its crisis intervention teams to work 24/7 — not just Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and to hold all six officers involved accountable.

"The city ought to step up and hold them accountable and they certainly acted inconsistent in their training," Waples said.

Wednesday, Chief Randal Taylor ordered the department's Critical Incident Response Team' to finish its criminal investigation into the officer's actions and present the case, to the Marion County Prosecutor's Office, by the end of Friday.

The prosecutor's office will then determine if criminal charges should be filed against any of the officers. MCPO said there is no timeline on if and when charges could be filed.

A copy of the investigative file will also be provided to the FBI's Indianapolis Field Office.

A separate investigation is being conducted by IMPD Internal Affairs.

The coroner's determination of homicide means his death was caused by another person.

The prosecutor's office will decide if it was intentional. If so, there will be a trial and a jury then decides.

The Operation of Corporation Counsel could not comment on the pending lawsuit against the city.

Part of the toxicology report showed THC was in Whitfield's system.

The attorney representing his estate says it's unknown if that's what caused Whitfield's mental episode, but says the coroner did not list that as a contributing factor in his death.

Regarding the lawsuit, Waples said they have to prove the cause of death was caused by the officers and the use of force was excessive and he, "doesn't think there is any question about that."