A Marion County grand jury has indicted two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers for their alleged roles in the in-custody death of Herman Whitfield III.
Whitfield III died on April 25, 2022 after IMPD officers responded to his mental health crisis at his parent’s home. His parents wanted an ambulance to take him to a hospital. Instead, six officers arrived. Whitfield III was tased twice and placed in the prone position by officers until he became unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital shortly afterward. The Marion County Coroner’s Office ruled his death a homicide, citing the cause of death as, “cardiopulmonary arrest in the setting of law enforcement subdual, prone restraint, and conducted electrical weapon use.”
Adam Ahmad has been indicted on felony charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, battery resulting in serious bodily injury and battery resulting in moderate injury. He also faces a misdemeanor battery charge.
Steven Sanchez has been indicted on two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter. Additionally, he faces felony charges of reckless homicide, battery resulting in serious bodily injury and battery resulting in moderate injury. He has also been charged with one misdemeanor count of battery.
Body-worn camera footage from the incident shows Sanchez firing his taser twice at Whitfield. He also holds Whitfield's head down while he is placed prone, face down on the ground, handcuffed.
When one of the other officers asks if Whitfield should be moved to his side, Ahmad instructs the officers not to.
"No. I don't want him to get up again," Ahmad said.
According to IMPD, all six of the officers are still working for the department and are on paid administrative duties.
An indictment is a finding of probable cause. A grand jury includes six jurors and one alternate who live in Marion County. Grand jurors must come to a majority decision to issue an indictment. The criminal charges will now move through Marion County Superior Court.
Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said he does not expect the other four officers involved to be criminally charged.
Whitfield’s family reacts
The Whitfield family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the city last year, which remains ongoing. Rich Waples, an attorney representing the family, said at a press conference Thursday that while only two of the officers have been charged criminally, he believes all six of the officers are still liable civilly.
“The law is clear civilly that if they weren't hands on, they had a duty to intervene,” Waples said.
Whitfield III’s mother, Gladys Whitfield, said at a press conference that the grand jury’s decision to indict two of the officers affirms her belief that a crime was committed the night her son died.
“The community recognizing that what the officers did was criminal – it just helps to enforce our reasonable beliefs that what the officers did was an injustice and criminal,” she said.
Herman Whitfield II said the healing process of grieving his son’s death is far from over.
“Herman will always be with me,” he said at the press conference. “He was my son, her son, our son, and he shall always live forever in us. And his legacy should also always live forever within us. And I don't know if the healing even started yet or if it will ever end.”
Mears said it’s essential for the community to not forget about the Whitfield family.
“They've been through a lot and they've suffered a lot,” he said. “And I just hope people recognize that this is literally just a finding of probable cause. This is the first step in the criminal justice process.”
Justice for Herman Whitfield III Campaign Organizer Dea Lott also emphasized at a press conference Thursday that the indictment is just the start of the case.
“We are glad that two of the six officers have been indicted and there will be charges,” Lott said. “The one thing that I will say about that, is that indictment charges, they are not convictions.”
Lott said the campaign is demanding the officers involved be terminated for their alleged actions. She added that the community must continue to be engaged as the case moves forward.
Earlier this week, faith leaders announced that they have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate IMPD's culture. In addition to the Whitfield case, they also called for justice in the police shooting of Anthony Maclin last December.
This story has been updated.