The taser probes shot at a man suffering from an apparent mental health crisis during a fatal encounter with Indianapolis police Monday morning did not strike the man’s chest as police previously claimed, officials said late Friday afternoon.
Indianapolis Metropolitan Police said body camera footage and preliminary autopsy results indicate one taser probe struck Herman Whitfield III in the left side of his abdomen — not the chest.
The exact cause of Whitfield’s death during the encounter remained unclear Friday afternoon. Police had not yet released the body camera footage, and the Marion County Coroner told IndyStar the 39-year-old pianist’s cause of death might not be available for six to eight weeks, pending a toxicology exam and other tests.
IMPD identifies police officers involved in man’s death
Five IMPD patrol officers and one recruit trainee who responded to “a disturbance” at the northeast Indianapolis home early Monday have been placed on administrative leave.
They were identified Friday as:
- Steve Sanchezwith more than two years of experience on the force;
- Adam Ahmadwith two and a half years of experience;
- Matthew Virtwith nearly three years experience;
- Dominic Clarkwith just under six years on the force;
- Jordan Bull, with seven and a half years; and
- Nicholas Mathewwith seven months on the force.
The officers, police said, will remain on leave until the conclusions of both the criminal and administrative investigations into the case.
Body camera footage of Monday’s events will be released “in the coming weeks,” IMPD said.
Whitfield tased, handcuffed before death
Law enforcement officials said officers “responded to a disturbance” at the home in the 3700 block of Marrison Place about 3:20 am Monday.
They encountered the man, later identified as Whitfield, and his parents inside the house, according to a news release. Whitfield’s father reportedly told officers his son was “having a psychosis” and needed an ambulance.
Officers called an ambulance, police said in the release, and noted Whitfield — described as 6 foot 2 inches and 280 pounds — “was moving around the home, naked and sweating.” He was bleeding from his mouth.
“The man moved to areas of the home where officers lost sight of him several times,” police said. “After more than 10 minutes of officers negotiating and using de-escalation tactics, the man moved quickly towards an officer. The officer deployed his electronic control device, more commonly known as a taser, striking the man in the chest with at least one of the two prongs.”
The officer “activated the taser twice,” police said, and Whitfield continued to resist. “Due to the man’s size of him, officers placed him in two pairs of linked handcuffs, which typically provides more comfort to larger individuals,” they added.
Once police deemed the scene safe, medics entered and asked Whitfield to roll over, police said. Whitfield was unresponsive, and officers took off the man’s handcuffs and began performing CPR.
He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving.
Police did not say how much time had passed between when Whitfield was tased and when he was reported to be unresponsive. It is also not clear what, if any, other restraints were used to detain the man.
Whitfield’s death has renewed calls from advocates in the Indianapolis community for a different approach to how the city handles calls for help involving mental health situations. That approach, they say, should not involve police officers.
While Indianapolis has updated its response to mental health-related situations in recent years, community members told IndyStar those measures have not been enough to abate concerns.
Since 2017, for example, IMPD has used specialized Mobile Crisis Assistant Teams, or MCATs, consisting of an officer trained on crisis intervention and a clinician, to respond to certain situations.
But those teams would not have been able to help in Whitfield’s situation — they only operate on weekdays between 8 am and 6 pm
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett in March pledged to create a clinician-led mobile crisis response team to respond to mental health-related issues in the community. The mayor’s office said Tuesday it is “still identifying the source and size of that funding” for the pilot program.
The man’s death also prompted Indy10 Black Lives Matter to renew their calls to defund the police.
Whitfield was a ‘genius’ pianist
Those who knew Whitfield remembered the man as a gifted pianist.
An Indianapolis native, Whitfield attended Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School before heading to Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio. There, he completed the five-year double degree program with three majors — earning a Bachelor of Music as a double major in both Composition and Piano Performance, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Politics, the school told IndyStar.
After graduating from Oberlin in 2006, Whitfield enrolled in the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he received his Master of Music in piano performance in May 2008.
Antonio Pompa-Baldi, an Italian pianist who taught Whitfield piano performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music in the mid-2000s, told IndyStar that Whitfield was “phenomenally talented.”
“Every fiber of his being had a natural inclination towards music,” Pompa-Baldi said.