Now we know just how much it cost the taxpayers of Iberia Parish to settle claims from the death of Victor White III.
White was 22 in 2014 when he turned up dead while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.
Given Iberia Parish’s shameful history of brutal and racist law enforcement, who wouldn’t be suspicious after a handcuffed black man died of a bullet wound while in custody?
The coroner said White killed himself with a handgun he had concealed while being arrested.
But even if White died by his own hand, how can a competent law enforcement officer arrest and handcuff a man and not discover he was armed?
The mother of White's minor child sued the sheriff's department and the case produced a settlement.
John Simerman, a reporter for The Advocate, filed a public records request to determine the amount of the settlement, but the mother objected. The sheriff's office was willing to provide the information.
The Advocate and our TV partner, KATC in Lafayette, went to court, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna ruled that the privacy interests of the minor child outweighed the public's right to know how much of their money was spent settling a suit rooted in shoddy policework.
It took two years, but in March the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned Hanna’s secrecy order in a sweeping and well-reasoned repudiation. The appeals court criticized Hanna for “relying on erroneous conclusions of law and misapplying the law to the facts."
That set the stage for the release of the information, and now we can report that the payout was $325,000. That’s nearly $5 for every man, woman and child in Iberia Parish — a lot of money for the settlement of a single case.
White's death prompted a wide-ranging probe of the office and its leader, Sheriff Louis Ackal. The probe uncovered jaw-dropping civil rights violations that led to 11 guilty pleas and a criminal trial against the sheriff himself. Ackal was acquitted, claiming he knew nothing about the abuses, but he declined to seek reelection. The city of New Iberia divorced itself from the sheriff's office and formed its own police force.
The settlement in the White case should not have remained a secret for so long. The disclosure of the cost, so long after the fact, reminds Iberia voters why they will be fortunate to be rid of the callous and incompetent sheriff, who leaves office this summer.