State Police investigators this week submitted their report on the March death of a handcuffed, arrested Iberia Parish man to the District Attorney’s Office, which will decide if criminal charges are called for in a case also being probed by federal agents.
In the wake of the District Attorney’s Office receiving the report, the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office on Friday afternoon emailed to media outlets a release expressing Sheriff Louis Ackal’s sympathies for Victor White III and the slain 22-year-old’s family.
“In my opinion, this was a tragic loss of life, and it is difficult to understand why it happened,” Ackal said.
The sheriff said he will continue to stay out of the investigation.
White died after being shot the night of March 2 in the side of his chest while his hands were cuffed behind his back as he sat in the rear seat of a sheriff’s unit. On March 3, Ackal asked State Police to investigate. The Iberia Parish Coroner’s Office has since ruled the death a suicide.
White’s family doesn’t believe it was suicide, family attorney Carol Powell-Lexing said.
She said White’s parents continue to grieve. “They’re as good as can be expected,” Powell-Lexing said Friday.
She also said the family had not been informed the State Police report was in the hands of prosecutors.
Iberia Parish Assistant District Attorney Robert Vines said late Friday that prosecutors will take a long look at the findings then decide whether criminal charges are warranted.
“We have an obligation not to comment on evidence and the facts of the case,” Vines said.
State Police Master Trooper Brooks David also would not comment Friday.
White’s death has provoked anger among those who believe there’s no way a handcuffed man who had been searched by deputies at least once could brandish a handgun and shoot himself. A summary of Coroner Dr. Carl Ditch’s report states a single bullet entered White’s chest between his right nipple and his right armpit, and exited near the left armpit.
“This is an insult to the intelligence of the people of this state,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said Thursday at a rally at Southern University in Baton Rouge. The civil rights activist was joined by the White family and Powell-Lexing.
On Tuesday, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, Stephanie Finley, disclosed that FBI agents have been conducting a parallel investigation into White’s death. She said the Justice Department is looking for possible civil rights violations. Finley said federal investigators also will review the State Police report. An effort late Friday to contact Finley’s office for additional comment was unsuccessful.
“The federal investigation would supplement, rather than supplant, the investigation by state authorities,” Finley said in a news release Tuesday.
She said federal officials “will determine what additional investigation, if any, is necessary to determine who fired the fatal shot, and whether the evidence demonstrates a willful civil rights violation.”
Ackal, in the news release Friday, said he will not comment on the State Police findings until the District Attorney’s Office finishes its review. The sheriff did say in the release that he welcomes the FBI’s investigation.
The White investigation marks the second probe in a year in which federal agents are looking into possible civil rights violations in New Iberia, a city that does not have a municipal police department and that relies on sheriff’s deputies for law enforcement.
At the 2013 Sugarcane Festival, held at the end of September, one deputy was seen in a video beating a kneeling, handcuffed man after the law intervened in a disturbance. Ackal fired the deputy, who was never identified.
Finley’s office has not finished the Sugarcane Festival investigation. This week, a spokesman for Finley said the office had no comment on the investigation.