NEW IBERIA — A Jeanerette woman has filed a wrongful-death suit in federal court against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal and the deputy who arrested her child’s father, Victor White III, the night he died from a single gunshot wound while handcuffed in the back seat of the deputy’s car.
In a 15-page complaint filed Friday on behalf of White’s toddler, Shandell Bradley’s attorneys allege Ackal fails to adequately train his deputies and tolerates excessive uses of force and unreasonable searches, which resulted in White’s death a year ago on March 3, 2014.
The suit also claims Cpl. Justin Ortis, who arrested White that night, beat him and was negligent in failing to protect White’s safety while he was in custody.
“The family looks forward to bringing justice to this matter,” said Monroe attorney Carol Powell Lexing, who has represented White’s family since his death. She filed the suit with a motion asking the court’s permission for Florida attorney Benjamin Crump to enroll in the case.
Crump has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and he’s enrolled in a wrongful-death suit filed in late January by the Cleveland family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot dead by an officer in November while playing with a pellet gun in a public park.
A spokesman for Crump did not return a phone call Tuesday afternoon.
Maj. Ryan Turner, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said the agency had not been made aware of the suit as of Tuesday afternoon, but he did confirm Ortis is still employed as a deputy there.
White’s family strongly disputes the Sheriff’s Office and coroner’s claims that the 22-year-old shot himself.
Following a rally Monday in New Iberia to mark a year since White’s arrest, the family will hold a 7:30 p.m. news conference Wednesday at Southern University to discuss the suit, which was filed days before the one-year statute of limitations was reached in the case.
Among the allegations lodged against Ackal in the suit is that he hires and retains deputies “with demonstrable propensities for excessive force, violence, negligence and other misconduct,” tolerates that conduct and encourages his deputies “to believe that they can violate” people’s rights without adversely affecting their employment or opportunities for promotion.
A dollar amount related to funeral costs, emotional distress and the loss of both White’s financial support and emotional care of the child was not specified in the suit, but it requests “an amount sufficient to make an example of those Defendants and to deter future misconduct.”
It also requests a trial-by-jury.
Ortis arrested White, 22, while he and an unnamed friend were walking home from a convenience store where a fight had just occurred. According to the suit, Ortis stopped the two men shortly before midnight and searched White twice before arresting him for drug possession.
What happened after has been detailed only in a statement released by State Police the same date as White’s death.
“Once at the Sheriff’s Office, White became uncooperative and refused to exit the deputy’s patrol vehicle,” it reads. “As the deputy requested assistance from other deputies, White produced a handgun and fired one round striking himself in the back.”
In August, the Iberia Parish coroner ruled White’s death a suicide, and State Police said the gun that fired the fatal bullet was not a type used by the Sheriff’s Office.
But the agency has not released additional details about its report, submitted in September to the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. That agency stepped away from the case when the U.S. Justice Department began conducting its own review.
In another case that garnered federal involvement, the FBI is investigating a Sept. 29, 2013, incident after New Iberia’s annual Sugar Cane Festival, in which a deputy was captured on video kicking and clubbing a handcuffed man.
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