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IMPD chief talks about release of video of man who died in police custody

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has released 21 minutes of video that show the minute police arrived until the time paramedics tried to revive Herman Whitfield III.

The video, release via YouTube, is hard to watch.  

Seconds before Whitfield was tasered by an IMPD officer, he came running out of his room into the kitchen, then into the dining room where he was tasered.

The bodycam video is from Officer Steven Sanchez, who fired his taser, according to IMPD.

Whitfield was tasered the first time, then he crashes into a table, then to the floor, while yelling “fire” over and over again.

There is a five-second pause and he is tasered again. Whitfield thrashes around as officers try to get handcuffs on him. Whitfield is kept on his stomach for at least three minutes until paramedics arrived. He had stopped breathing. Efforts to revive him failed. 

An autopsy report as well as three IMPD internal investigation remained incomplete. 

Whitfield’s parents have filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the six police officers involved.

I-Team 8 talked with IMPD Chief Randal Taylor upon the video’s release. Taylor explained why he released the video Tuesday.

“Well, the community asked for it. So, honestly, I would have liked to have had the autopsy report before releasing the video. A number of groups had asked us to release it. I just think it is at point where I just need to release it,” said Taylor, the IMPD chief since .  

Whitfield mother had called 911 in the early hours of April 25. She told the 911 operator that her son was having some sort of an episode and she needed an ambulance. Police arrived to find Whitfield was naked, sweating, and bleeding from the mouth. The officer tried to coax him from his room. Whitfield was talking but not answering questions from the police or his parents. His mother told the 911 operator that Herman didn’t do drugs and he’d never been diagnosed with anything.

I-Team 8 asked the IMPD chief if he believed the officers acted appropriately, and Taylor said he was advised to not answer the question. However, Taylor said, many of the police videos show an open-and-closed story. However, this one, he says doesn’t tell the entire story. 

“What you see may not be ultimately why this man died … so … a little different for us on this one,” Taylor said. 

Mental health resources

News releases

“The family of Herman Whitfield III responds to IMPD’s release of the Critical Incident Video (CIV) with two major points. First, the video is a selective and biased account of the events. Second, the entire body cam videos capturing the events of April 25, 2022, leading to Herman’s death should be released. To date IMPD has refused to release the entirety of the videos to the family or to the public.

“The CIV is biased in that it selectively includes narration and text to present a false narrative of what happened and leaves out important points which should be acknowledge by IMPD but which the CIV shows.

“For example, the CIV narration and text says that after about 10 minutes of not responding to the officers, Herman rushed into the kitchen and started throwing items around. The only item Herman threw was when he picked up an empty plastic water pitcher, and was told to put it down, and in response he tossed it into the air. He did not throw anything at anybody. Second, the narration and text says Herman rushed towards an officer, but Herman was simply moving from room to room. Officer Sanchez’s body cam clearly shows the officer laying in wait in the dining room with his taser pointed at the open kitchen door, waiting for Herman to come into the dining room, and then he shot him with the Taser when he did. Herman did not rush anybody.

“The CIV narration and text are also revealing for what they leaves out. While one can clearly hear on the video Herman calling out four times, “I can’t breathe” the narration and included text are silent on this and fail to mention it. While IMPD says its officers are trained to quickly sit restrained individuals up from a prone position to facilitate breathing, the narration and text do not mention this, and do fail to note that officers leave Herman in the prone position with weight on his back for over three minutes until medics arrive.

“Mr. Whitfield did not present a danger to the officers, and there was no need to taser him. Moreover, the officers violated their own training in keeping Mr. Whitfield handcuffed face down after he was restrained, and after he had told them he couldn’t breathe, and when he was not moving or breathing, which led to this death. For over twenty-five years, the policing community has agreed that officers should not keep a restrained individual in the prone position because of the significant risk of positional asphyxia, i.e., suffocation because of body position. Mr. Whitfield, who was in his family home, needed professional mental health care, not the use of excessive deadly force.

“The Whitfield family calls on IMPD to honestly respond to these important issues and not present a biased and false narrative of Herman’s death. All body cam videos should be released, and IMPD should honestly respond to the misconduct of its officers which led to Herman’s death.”

Lawyers Israel Nunez Cruz and Richard A. Waples

“INDIANAPOLIS — June 28, 2022 — Today, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department released an edited video summary related to the April 25 death of Herman Whitfield while in IMPD custody. In response, Chrystal Ratcliffe, president of the Greater Indianapolis NAACP, issued the following statement:

“‘Our prayers go out to Herman Whitfield’s family, who called 911 when their son was apparently having a crisis. The edited video snippet released today is difficult to watch. While this is still in active investigation and litigation, it pains us to witness the death of this young man. This incident renews our commitment to work for more medically-trained resource officers who are available around the clock. We will be closely monitoring investigations by IMPD Internal Affairs, the Use of Force Review Board, and the Marion County Prosecutor’s office to ensure that each process is fair, just and transparent.’”

Jodi Perras, communications committee chair, Greater Indianapolis NAACP Branch