Crime Watch 8

Family of Indianapolis man who died in police custody sues city, IMPD officers

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The family of Herman Whitfield III, an Indianapolis man who died in police custody in March, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and several members of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

The suit, filed Wednesday, names IMPD officers Adam Ahmad, Jordan Bull, Dominique Clark, Nicholas Matthew, Steven Sanchez, and Matthew Virt as defendants. It seeks monetary damages against the city and the officers.

According to court documents, Whitfield’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the officers “needlessly tasered and then crushed the breath out of a man undergoing a mental health crisis, while callously ignoring his desperate repeated cries, ‘I can’t breathe’.”

On March 25, Whitfield’s mother called 911 and asked for an ambulance to come to their home on Marrison Place and help her and her husband get mental health care for their son, court papers say.

The lawsuit claims that when IMPD officers arrived, Whitfield’s father asked them where the ambulance was but got no reply.

When the officers asked to speak to Whitfield, his parents said he was having a “mental health crisis” and could not respond to their questions. Police said in March that Whitfield’s father told them his son was “having a psychosis” and asked them to call an ambulance.

Officers attempted to communicate with Whitfield, court papers say, but he did not appear to understand the officers’ questions and moved around the home naked.

The lawsuit claims Whitfield walked into the dining room and Officer Sanchez shot him with his Taser, deploying it at least twice.

“Mr. Whitfield collapsed to the dining room floor yelling ‘fire,’ ‘fire,’ responding to the 50,000 volts of electricity pulsing through his body,” the lawsuit says.

The family says four IMPD officers got on top of Whitfield and handcuffed him while he “writhed in pain” from the Taser.

According to the lawsuit, “The officers’ body cam videos clearly reveal Mr. Whitfield gasping for breath and telling the officers at least three times: ‘I can’t breathe.’”

Medics arrived and asked Whitfield to roll over, but he did not respond, according to IMPD.

After medics could not find a pulse, Whitfield was given CPR. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

“Mr. Whitfield died because of the force used against him by the defendant officers,” the lawsuit claims. “The force used against Herman Whitfield was unreasonable, excessive, and deadly. Mr. Whitfield needed professional mental health care, not the use of excessive force.”

The lawsuit says the city has a mental health response unit within IMPD, but city policy and practice limit the unit’s availability to certain hours of the day.

“Pursuant to the City of Indianapolis’s policy and practice, the individual defendant officers did not have the same training and policies and procedures utilized by the City’s mental health response unit. The City’s above policies and practices were a responsible cause of how the individual defendant officers interacted with Mr. Whitfield and the fatal result that occurred.”

Court documents call the actions of the officers “reckless” and say they were done “with callous indifference to Mr. Whitfield’s federally-protected rights.”

The officers involved in the incident were placed on leave pending the results of criminal and administrative investigations. They remain members of the police department.

News 8 reached out to the city’s legal team at the Office of Corporation Counsel for comment and received the following response:

“Out of respect for the judicial process, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

Mental health resources