The Rev. Al Sharpton and legal advisers for the family of a New Iberia man said to have committed suicide while handcuffed in a police car railed against what they said were numerous holes in the law enforcement account, saying they have new evidence to cast doubt on the account given by law enforcement officials.
“I’ve been fighting civil rights cases for three decades, and I have never heard a story more incredulous than this story,” Sharpton said. “This is an insult to the intelligence of the people of this state,” he said of the police narrative.
Iberia Parish sheriff’s deputies have said Victor White III, 22, shot and killed himself while his hands were cuffed behind him and he was sitting in a patrol car. A deputy said White had refused to get out of the cruiser when he had been brought to the Sheriff’s Office.
White was arrested after deputies responded to a report of a fight on March 2 and found illegal drugs on him, deputies have said. The arresting deputy found illegal drugs during the body search, but he didn’t find the weapon that police say White used to kill himself. Officials have said the gun was not a Sheriff’s Office service weapon.
White’s death is now the subject of investigations by both the FBI and State Police. State Police findings are almost complete, Master Trooper Brooks David said Tuesday. It’s not known how long the federal investigation will take.
Carol Powell Lexing, the White family’s lawyer, said she has video footage to dispute that Victor White was in a fight before getting arrested and said White had a suspicious gash above his left eye that “looked like a horseshoe.”
White’s father, the Rev. Victor White Sr., described the wound as extending from the top of his son’s head to beneath his jaw. “I knew then something was wrong,” White said.
He added that after the shooting, he was most troubled by how he was going to explain the events to their eight other children, as well as White’s daughter, who was 6 months old at the time of the shooting.
“I know my son didn’t kill himself,” White said, adding that his son had a job and had been planning to buy a car and move into an apartment with his girlfriend.
The family’s legal counsel also disputes the narrative given by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office and the parish coroner.
Attorney Ben Crump, who has been a legal adviser for the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who died in a 2012 altercation with George Zimmerman in Florida, used the phrase “Houdini handcuffs” in describing the narrative that White was shot from the chest despite being handcuffed behind his back.
Crump also cast doubt on the bullet’s trajectory toward the left side of the body, which implied White used his non-dominant hand to fire the gun.
Crump also said the gun wasn’t found after what he said were two pat-downs and that ruling of suicide deprived White’s family of a full investigation.
“It flies in the face of all common sense,” Crump said of the narrative. “This family wants answers. They want the truth.”
Later on Thursday night, Sharpton addressed a crowd of more than 200 Southern University students and community members gathered in the Union Hall Cotillion Room at the university, where Sharpton called White’s death the latest in a series of violent police disputes that have provoked outrage, including the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Sharpton urged students to demand better from their local officials and from their governments.
“All of these cases need young warriors first and foremost because any of those young men could have been you,” Sharpton told the crowd.
The announcement of the federal involvement comes about 10 months after Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal asked the FBI to investigate an earlier, unrelated allegation that a deputy kicked and clubbed a handcuffed man when responding to a street party in New Iberia.
The Sept. 29 incident, which followed the annual Sugarcane Festival, was captured on video that surfaced days later on YouTube.