LAFAYETTE — The Justice Department on Tuesday said federal investigators are looking into the death of Victor White III, the 22-year-old New Iberia man whose fatal gunshot wound incurred while handcuffed and in police custody has been ruled self-inflicted.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley made the confirmation in an emailed news release Tuesday that said a federal investigation “was ongoing.” Finley did not say when federal detectives began the probe.
“This tragic incident deserves a full review of the evidence; our objective is to discover the truth,” Finley said. She added that the federal investigation will “supplement, rather than supplant,” the current investigation being conducted by State Police.
Dr. Carl Ditch, the Iberia Parish coroner, ruled that White’s death was suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest — to the right of his right nipple — while his hands were cuffed behind him on March 2.
Finley said White’s family, which has disputed the coroner’s findings, has received assurances from federal officials that the matter will be investigated fully.
White was arrested after a fight late March 2, a Sunday night, when a deputy reportedly found illegal drugs on him. White was transported to the Sheriff’s Office in New Iberia for arrest processing when he became uncooperative, and was in the back seat of the deputy’s car when he was shot, State Police reported.
Sheriff Louis Ackal asked State Police to investigate the following day, March 3. Iberia Parish officials have not released the identities of the deputies who arrested, searched and transported White to the Sheriff’s Office that night.
State Police are now completing their report, Master Trooper Brooks David said Tuesday.
Once it’s finished, it’ll be given to the District Attorney’s Office, which with State Police will meet with the White family to go over the findings, David said.
David said he was not aware before late Tuesday of federal involvement in the case.
He said the role of State Police remains the same: “We still collect the facts and all of the evidence.”
Finley said FBI agents “have been working parallel with the current investigation.”
She said the FBI, along with attorneys in her office and those with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, will review the State Police report.
Finley 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.”
“Our review will take time to complete,” Finley said.
White’s family has enlisted civil rights attorney Carol Powell-Lexing, a Monroe lawyer who was part of the legal team representing members of the Jena Six in 2007 and 2008. Efforts to contact Powell-Lexing at her Monroe office Tuesday were unsuccessful.
On Monday, White’s parents, Powell-Lexing and others held a news conference in New Orleans asking the Justice Department to get involved. In the notice of the conference, the Whites and their attorney said they did not believe the findings of the Coroner’s Office.