June 28, 2022

IMPD releases body camera footage from in-custody death of Herman Whitfield III

IMPD releases body camera footage from in-custody death of Herman Whitfield III

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has released body camera footage of an in-custody death that occurred in April.

Herman Whitfield III, 39, died on April 25 after being tased by IMPD officers. His autopsy and an official cause of death are still pending. Whitfield’s parents called 911 requesting an ambulance because their son was having a “psychosis.”

The footage released Tuesday is edited and is not the raw footage. IMPD Chief Randal Taylor said the video was edited for time.

Whitfield's family said in a press release Tuesday that the footage is “a selective and biased account of the events” and the entire video should be released.

Taylor said he initially wanted to wait to release the video until a cause of death had been determined. However, he decided to release it earlier due to community calls for it to be shown.

“This is indeed a critical incident, and a man did pass away during this time. So this is one that we focus in on and decide to show to let people know what they were confronted with,” he said.

The footage can be viewed here. Warning: The video contains images that some viewers may find disturbing.

MCAT, the city’s Mobile Crisis Assistance Team, was not on duty at the time of the incident. The incident has drawn criticism from community advocates, who say it should have been handled differently.

The footage begins with a recording of the 911 call. Whitfield’s mother asks for an ambulance to be sent to the 3700 block of Marrison Place at about 3:20 a.m because her son is having a “mental issue.” Whitfield can be heard yelling in the background of the call. Whitfield's mother says no one in the home is armed.

Officers arrived at the scene, where Whitfield was naked, sweating, and bleeding from the mouth. His figure is mostly blurred in the publicly-released footage. Officers called an ambulance to “stage near the home while the scene was made safe.”

Officers attempted to calm and prepare Whitfield for the ambulance, and his parents tried to get him dressed. IMPD said Whitfield did not respond to the officers' instructions and moved throughout the home. Whitfield moved from the bedroom toward his parents and an officer who were standing in a hallway.

He then ran into the kitchen and began throwing items, and then moved to the dining room, where an officer deployed a taser, according to IMPD.

“Fire! Fire! Fire!” Whitfield yelled. An officer instructed Whitfield to stay down and not move. Whitfield thrashed on the floor and yelled and police activated the taser a second time.

Each taser activation lasts five seconds. IMPD said that each taser activation is an independent use of force.

Officers detained Whitfield using two sets of handcuffs; and moved him to his stomach. A cloth appears to cover his head, and Whitfield can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” multiple times.

About three minutes later, officers rolled Whitfield over, but he was unresponsive. The handcuffs were removed and officers began CPR. Whitfield was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Last week, Whitfield’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the city and six officers. The wrongful death suit points to Whitfield’s pleas that he could not breathe. It claims the force used by the officers was unreasonable, excessive, and deadly.

"The officers’ body cam videos show that shortly after Mr. Whitfield cried, 'I can’t breathe,' the third time, he did not move or breathe at all, yet the officers continued to put weight on him for three to four minutes before medics arrived," the lawsuit states.

The case is under review by IMPD and the civilian majority Use of Force Review Board. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office is also being consulted during the investigative process.

The six officers involved in the incident are still working, but on administrative duties instead of patrols, Taylor said.

Contact WFYI criminal justice reporter Katrina Pross at kpross@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @katrina_pross.

Pross is a Corps Member of Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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