Crime Watch 8

Family who sued Indianapolis, 6 IMPD cops: We sought services ‘then they killed our son’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A lawsuit filed Wednesday morning names six Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers who responded to Herman Whitfield’s home.

According to court documents, the officers needlessly tasered and then crushed the breath out of Whitfield while he was undergoing a mental health crisis and police callously ignored his desperate cries: “I can’t breathe.” 

Gladys Whitfield said, “When he ended up dead that wasn’t supposed to happen. He was alive. How can one think that something, when you call for mental health concerns, and then he is dead.”

The mother is heartbroken.

According to court records, Herman Whitfield was in the middle of an emotional crisis March 25. His mother called 911 and asked for an ambulance to assist her and her husband in getting their son mental health care. Gladys said, “We thought we were availing services ourselves of services that they provide and then they killed our son.”

In the court filling, his family claims Herman died because of force used against him by the defendant officers. The force used against Herman was unreasonable, excessive and deadly, the family says.  

Whitfield had been handcuffed and forced on his stomach; at least four of the responding officers were on top of him. The lawyer for the family has seen the police’s bodycam video.  

“When we viewed the videotape the department confirmed. There were representatives there with me that one, yes, they heard him on the video saying clearly, ‘I can’t breathe’ at least three times, and when they were there with Herman — weight on top of him — I said, ‘Aren’t they trained to get him up right away to facilitate breathing?’ They acknowledged that they were,” said a lawyer for the Whitfield family, Richard Waples.

News 8 reported at the time of the incident that police found Whitfield naked, sweating and bleeding from the mouth when they entered his home. The lawyer for the family says Whitfield wasn’t responding to police or his parents. He says the police bodycam video shows Whitfield certainly wasn’t a threat to anyone. IMPD told News 8 at the time that Whitfield was tasered when negotiating. The de-escalation tactic failed.  

The lawyer said, “The video clearly shows that he is up and breathing. He is not right mentally at the time. Physically he is OK, until he is tasered and then climbed on top of by four or five guys, and then left in a prone position face-down where he says he can’t breathe. The video kind of tells you all you need to know.” 

IMPD has not released any portion of the video. When the ambulance arrived 10 minutes or so later, after Whitfield was handcuffed, he was not moving and had stopped breathing. Efforts by medics to revive him failed. The lawyer for his estate says Whitfield’s death was preventable and tragic   “He didn’t need the use of force — excessive, deadly force — he needed to get mental health help.”

IMPD Chief Randal Taylor said he had been informed of the lawsuit and is waiting for the results of an internal investigation. The officers were placed on administrative duty. 

Mental health resources