Saying evidence is lacking to disprove the official account that Victor White III shot and killed himself while handcuffed in the back of a police car, the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced Friday it will not file criminal charges in the case.
Carol Powell Lexing, a Monroe-based civil rights attorney who represents the family in an ongoing federal wrongful-death suit in the case, said they still do not accept the outcome but aren’t surprised by the district attorney’s findings.
“We’re disappointed. It’s typical,” Powell Lexing said when reached by phone Friday.
White’s family has long contested the account by authorities that his death was a suicide.
First Assistant District Attorney Rob Vines, lead attorney on the case, declined further comment on the announcement, citing the seven-page news release distributed Friday as an exhaustive account of the office’s reasoning.
“In this case, and after a complete and thorough analysis of the facts and the evidence, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any violation of applicable Louisiana criminal statutes,” the release states.
The announcement comes almost two years after White’s March 3, 2014, death led to public protests, national media coverage and a federal investigation initiated at the behest of the 22-year-old’s family, who have refused to accept the official account that White killed himself. His death happened amid existing tensions between parish residents and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, which has been subject to federal investigations of allegations of brutal treatment of those in its custody.
The U.S. Justice Department in December declined criminal charges in the White case, also citing a lack of evidence that would discount the conclusions of State Police, the FBI and state and federal medical examiners, all of whom agreed White’s gunshot wound was self-inflicted.
Now that both the federal and state investigations are closed, the case files become an open record, marking the first time the public will have access to witness statements, dash-cam video footage, dispatch logs and a number of forensic examinations and investigative reports in the case.
Powell Lexing said the family plans to enlist the help of independent experts to review that information and produce their own conclusions about the events surrounding White’s death.
“We were not privy to any type of information because of (the ongoing criminal) investigations,” Powell Lexing said.
The district attorney’s announcement cites statements from Dr. Christopher Tape, a forensic pathologist who, along with other experts, concluded it’s feasible for a person to shoot himself while handcuffed behind his back.
Also, witnesses, including a store clerk who encountered White moments before his arrest, told State Police that White had abrasions above and below his left eye before the arrest — although two of the witnesses later recanted their statements, according to the district attorney’s news release. The condition of White’s face upon his death led some to believe he had been injured while in police custody.
Dash-cam footage also captured White’s arrest outside a New Iberia convenience store where deputies had gone to investigate a fight. Instead, they arrested White on cocaine and marijuana possession.
The statement issued Friday by the District Attorney’s Office says video shows White reaching into his front pocket while handcuffed, although it’s unclear whether the video came from the dash-cam or another source. The statement also doesn’t specify where White was at the time and does not address whether there is any additional audio or video footage of White’s last moments alive.
Conclusions about White’s final moments appear solely reliant on statements made by the transporting deputy — who said that once inside the car, White offered to provide narcotics information to the deputy — and by the deputy’s supervising lieutenant, who instructed the deputy to bring White to the criminal investigations office to talk.
Neither man’s name has been released.
Both officers said White refused to leave the car once they arrived at the station. The deputy said White “stated that he could not go back to jail and for the deputy to tell his family that he loved them. White was crying at the time he made this exclamation,” the district attorney’s news release says.
The supervising lieutenant, the release says, “approached the vehicle and had a discussion with White near the open rear door, then said he heard White protest that he did not want to go back to jail. And, just prior to the gunshot, the supervising lieutenant heard Victor White III exclaim: ‘I’m gone!’ ”
State Police, who were called to investigate, found a .25-caliber handgun, a spent cartridge casing and a small projectile and determined all three elements were of the same weapon.
They also obtained statements from White’s brother, Leonard White, who said Victor White owned the same kind of handgun and was carrying it that night. Isaiah Lewis, an acquaintance who was with White during his arrest, also told police the same thing, according to the news release.
The District Attorney’s Office said it reviewed investigative files submitted by State Police, findings of the FBI and the forensic investigations of both the Iberia Parish Coroner’s Office and the Department of Defense Armed Forces Medical Examiner System.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.