October 29, 2022

A celebration of life for an Indianapolis musician killed by IMPD response to mental health call

Whitfield family at the celebration of life at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. (Jill Sheridan WFYI)

Whitfield family at the celebration of life at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. (Jill Sheridan WFYI)

Many remembered the life and talent of Herman Whitfield III at a Saturday service in Indianapolis. About 100 people came out for the celebration of life on what would have been his 40th birthday.

Music was a large part of the ceremony for the accomplished pianist and composer.  State Representative Robin Shakelford said his death is "egregious."

“So young, so talented and has been taken from this community with something that could have been preventable,” Shaklelford said.

Whitfield was killed by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, IMPD, officers that responded when he had a mental health crisis in April.

Edited police body camera video shows the officers twice tasered Whitfield and then held him down in a prone position handcuffed while he told them he could not breathe. He died in police custody. The Marion County Coroner ruled his death a homicide.

At Saturday's celebration of life, family, friends, city leaders, state leaders and organizers called for justice, action and accountability.

Dea Lott heads Justice 4 Herman Whitfiled and said those calls are not yet met.

“This is a demand for every member of the legal system to ensure justice -- even when the police are the deadly perpetrators. This is a demand for the elected leaders to speak up for what is right and just -- all of the time,” Lott said.

Demands include the release of the unedited police body camera footage of the incident and the firing of the officers. The six officers involved are still working for the department, now assigned to administrative duties. The police investigation is ongoing.

Pastor Clyde Posley sits on the city’s General Orders Board. The General Orders are written policies that regulate how IMPD officers do their jobs. The civilian-majority board examines those policies and considers changes.

Posley said Whitfield's death should not have happened.

“He is the good son, whose community failed him,” Posley said.

The board was created after the 2020 social justice protests.

Celebration of life attendees represented a diverse cross section of the community, and many called for all to raise their voices against Whitfield's death.

His mother Gladys Whitfiled read a letter from North Carolina musical director William Curry. 

“I am beyond consultation knowing that there will be no new masterpieces coming from the mind of this young musical genius,” she read.

Faith in Indiana’s Josh Riddick says his group has been working for years to prevent this exact thing from happening and to improve all law enforcement responses to mental health emergencies. He tentatively praised the city's recent comittment to form a $2 million clinician-led response team.

“We’ve gotten a commitment from our city to see the creation of the first ever non-law enforcement intervention, but it is based on a set of dollars that may not be in, in three or four years,” Riddick said.

A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Whitfield’s family is still in court.

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at jsheridan@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @JillASheridan.

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