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New Details About Louisiana Resident Victor White III’s Shooting Challenge Police Account

Posted on Aug 26, 2014

New details have emerged about the circumstances surrounding the death of Victor White III, a 22-year-old African-American man who died in March while handcuffed in the back of a deputy’s car at the sheriff’s station in New Iberia, La.

That setup already sounds problematic, and according to recent reports by Vice and television station KATC in Lafayette, La., the story has been further complicated by a report last week from the Iberia Parish Coroner’s Office. That report said White was shot in the chest, as opposed to earlier statements made by Louisiana State Police that White had been shot in the back.

The Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office had asked the state police to investigate the incident, and Trooper Stephen Hammons issued its account to the media in March, saying that while looking into a fight at a convenience store, officers apprehended White on suspicion of possessing narcotics and drove him to the sheriff’s station, but he refused to get out of the car when they arrived. Here’s where the official version veers into iffy territory: While a deputy sought assistance, Hammons had contended, White somehow produced a gun and fatally shot himself in the back.

Among many others, Vice’s Wilbert L. Cooper wasn’t satisfied with that explanation, and after months of thwarted attempts to contact local officials, his suspicions were further fed by the discreet emergence of the coroner’s report:

First off, the cause of death according to the report was a suicide, which is drastically different from the seemingly accidental shooting initially described by police officials. According to Victor III’s family, he had no history of mental illness or depression. And even if he did, the back seat of a cop car at one in the morning is a strange place to decide to snuff it.

Despite initial statements made by authorities that said Victor III was shot in the back, the report describes no back wounds at all. Instead, his cause of death is described as a gunshot to his right chest that perforated his left lung and heart, exited through his left armpit, and lacerated his upper arm. It was reported in initial local accounts of the shooting that Victor III was handcuffed behind his back. So in order for him to have shot himself in the chest, he would have had to pull himself through his cuffed arms in the backseat of that cop car—and of course, have a gun in the first place.

The report also lists two abrasions on Victor III’s upper left face and around his eye, which seems to be in line with what White’s father, Victor White Sr., told me a couple weeks after his son’s death: “I know they beat him before he arrived at the station,” he said, “because those who were with him before he was arrested said he didn’t have a mark on him.”

I spoke again with Victor Sr. after he’d spent some time looking at the report. The man was in a state of bewilderment and exhaustion, because after more than six months, he still has no idea what happened to his son and the explanations just don’t add up.

The confusion about White’s death is further compounded by the fact that, according to Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal’s office, there aren’t any surveillance cameras monitoring the part of the parking lot where the shooting occurred.

The FBI had been alerted to potential trouble at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office in late 2013, with deputies confirming in November that the federal agency was investigating a separate case of alleged police brutality by at least one officer. That incident, which occurred in September, was caught on videotape and quickly posted on YouTube.

—Posted by Donald Kaufman and Kasia Anderson 

Additional links:

Click here for more information about the White family’s GoFundMe campaign to raise money for an independent autopsy.

Read more about the privatization of the parish jail system in Louisiana, where one in 86 adults ends up behind bars, here.

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