Acadiana-area residents who have protested Victor White III’s death while in Iberia Parish police custody gathered Monday in Lafayette to reiterate their continued support for the 22-year-old’s family after state and federal prosecutors closed the door on potential criminal charges in the case.
At Imani Temple on East Willow Street — a familiar setting for a number of news conferences over the past year about officer-involved shootings and allegations of racial bias among local law enforcement — members of the Lafayette NAACP stood with White’s family and called for action to improve police-community relations.
“We have tried to bring awareness to this community that something has to change,” said John Milton, a Lafayette attorney and Imani Temple pastor. “The question is: What are we gonna do here in Louisiana?”
Supporters of the White family have long expressed disbelief of the official account of White’s March 3, 2014, death from a single gunshot wound while handcuffed in the backseat of an Iberia Parish sheriff’s deputy’s car.
State Police, the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice have now all completed investigations into his death, with all citing a lack of evidence that would disprove the long-reported official account that White produced his own .25-caliber handgun and shot himself.
White’s father, the Rev. Victor White Sr., said Monday he still refuses to accept that story.
“We’re firm believers that they did wrong,” White Sr. said.
The family is involved in an ongoing federal wrongful-death lawsuit against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal and arresting officer Cpl. Justin Ortis. Now that the criminal investigations are closed and the case file is open to the public, the family plans to enlist experts to reach their own conclusions on what happened that night.
“Now we can move forward with what we need to do — what we can do — to bring justice for young Victor White III,” said Marja Broussard, NAACP Lafayette chapter president.
Broussard on Monday called for Ackal’s resignation “for his continued negligence of duties, including securing the safety of citizens in police custody.”
A 10-disc case file released by the District Attorney’s Office on Monday includes a 749-page State Police report that cites interviews with the civilians who saw White minutes, hours and at least one day before his death. A store clerk who served White minutes before his arrest said he saw fresh wounds on White’s left eye, while White’s manager at Waffle House, along with a co-worker, told police he had gotten into a heated argument there the day before.
The man at White’s side during his arrest, Isaiah Lewis, said he had met White only that night — and Lewis’ aunt told police the same thing — while White’s brother, Leonard White, said the 22-year-old had been carrying a small-caliber weapon he’d purchased on the street a week before while the two were hanging out the night of his death.
The case file offers the first public glimpse of White as he appeared that night on arresting officer Cpl. Justin Ortis’ front-facing dash-cam video.
There is no audio attached to the recording, as Ortis had never activated the microphone, according to State Police. And although the in-car camera allows manual switching through its three angles — over the front hood, over the trunk and toward the backseat, where White was shot — State Police concluded Ortis had his camera facing only forward that night and had never altered the camera angle during the two prior years he has been an Iberia Parish deputy.
The video shows an uneventful arrest during which White appears compliant, while Ortis is searching White’s pockets and waistband. Although State Police concluded Ortis searched White twice, “he did not follow through with completing the searches,” neglecting to pat-down his arms, chest, back, groin and legs, lead investigator Katie Morel wrote in the report.
The report also revealed that Ortis and a second officer involved in White’s arrest that night, Jason Javier, had arrested him almost four months prior on an active warrant found during a traffic stop, although both officers said they didn’t remember the encounter.
Ortis and Javier were investigating an unrelated convenience store fight when they encountered White and Lewis, searched them both and then arrested White on marijuana and cocaine possession.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.