Activists plan second autopsy
NEW IBERIA — Civil rights activists said they don’t trust State Police to vigorously investigate the shooting death of a handcuffed man in the rear of a sheriff’s patrol car last week, and called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the March 2 incident.
State Police called the death of Victor White III an apparent suicide.
The activists call it a slaying, noting that White’s hands were handcuffed behind his back at the time.
“We do not have any confidence that the State Police will deliver justice for us,” the Rev. Raymond Brown said at a sparsely attended rally Tuesday. Brown and six others gathered in front of the Iberia Parish Courthouse, where rain stopped falling minutes before the rally began.
Brown, who said he is the president of the National Action Now civil rights organization in New Orleans, said he was concerned State Police would cover up the circumstances that led to White’s death.
Brown distributed copies of a letter he said he sent to the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. He said he had not heard back from the federal agency.
“We think that Mr. White was murder(ed),” Brown said in the letter. “That’s why we are asking your office to investigate Mr. (White’s) death.”
Following White’s death, State Police issued a news release that said White, 22, had died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was arrested by Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office for drug possession.
Once White arrived at the Sheriff’s Office for processing, he refused a deputy’s commands to get out of the car. As the deputy called for assistance, State Police said, White shot himself with a handgun.
State Police Trooper 1st Class Stephen Hammons said Tuesday that his agency’s investigation is continuing, and Sheriff’s Lt. Anthony Green declined to comment Tuesday.
Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal requested a State Police investigation, which is normal in officer-involved shootings at municipal and parish police agencies.
Hammons would not estimate last week when the State Police report would be completed. He said once it’s completed, the report will be turned over to Iberia Parish District Attorney Phil Haney’s office for review.
Brown said White’s death and the State Police’s assurances of a thorough investigation had echoes of the Dec. 12, 2012, death of a teenager killed by a Breaux Bridge police officer.
In that case, it took State Police months to complete the report on the death of Darnisha Harris. In late July 2013, prosecutors brought the evidence and information contained in the State Police report to a grand jury that declined to charge the Breaux Bridge officer.
Brown said Tuesday he didn’t believe State Police’s findings that suggested Harris endangered herself, two Breaux Bridge officers and others by driving wildly among a throng of people before she was shot and killed by the officer.
Brown also questioned why there are no video cameras outside the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office where White was shot. Video of the incident would solve the mystery of how White died, Brown said.
Margie Broussard, who heads the Lafayette chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said police descriptions of how White died “were far-fetched.”
Broussard said the NAACP is collecting money for a second autopsy to be conducted after the Iberia Parish Coroner’s Office completes its official examination.
Brown said he has been communicating with White’s father, an Alexandria resident, and the NAACP most probably will release its autopsy findings well before State Police releases the Iberia coroner’s findings in the final report.
Kelly Reed, an Opelousas resident who attended the rally, said official explanations of how White died “seem to be, at best, astounding, and at worst, very difficult to believe.”