The police of this nation are under heavy fire recently. With the rash of police killings of unarmed Black men and protests in Ferguson, MO opposing them, people are calling for major reforms when it comes to police procedures. There is also the tendency for the media to make Black males appear “superhuman” in their interactions with people using deadly force against them. For instance, slain teenager is being painted as a humongous man with great strength that posed a threat to police. In Louisiana, however, they’ve attributed superhuman powers to 22-year-old Victor White III who died in the back of a police cruiser on March 3rd. The Louisiana State Police reported that, while handcuffed, White shot himself in the back.
According to NBC News, six months later, the Iberia Parish coroner found that White was shot in the front and not the back. There was gunpowder found on the wound (no evidence of a close-range shot), but not on his hands. However, based on reports from investigators and a pathologist, Dr. Carl Ditch supports the Louisiana State Police finding that the suicide was still possible “due to [White’s] body habitus.”
White’s family doesn’t buy it, given that he had a new baby, a girlfriend and a job. His father, Rev. Victor White, II said, “You can’t make me understand how my son took his left hand, when he was handcuffed behind the back, and shot himself. I don’t believe a thing they’re saying at this point.”
NBC details White’s arrest and death:
After months without work, he got a job at a Waffle House in New Iberia, a sugar cane town of 30,000 more than two hours west of New Orleans. He had begun saving for an apartment with his long-time girlfriend and their infant daughter. Family members say he was trying to decide whether to go to community college or apply for a more lucrative job working on one of the oil rigs that dot the Gulf of Mexico. He’d even started commuting to Alexandria, Louisiana now and then to attend Sunday services at Harmony Missionary Baptist Church, where his father is the preacher.
“He was ready to start,” said his father, Rev. White. “He’d call and text the family every night. ‘I love you, y’all would have been proud of me, I’m working another double [shift].’ ”
On March 2, the younger White was blowing off steam on the one night a week he had off from Waffle House.
Ashley Boutte, 24, said she picked White and his brother Leonard up around 6 p.m. outside a convenience store. They went back to Boutte’s father’s house to hang out.
“[Victor White] was very social,” Boutte said. “Very happy. He didn’t seem like he was mad or sad or anything. He was in a real good mood.”
While at Boutte’s father’s house, they ran into Isaiah Lewis, 24, who was visiting his own father next door. Lewis and White, who had never met before, hit it off. They talked for a few hours, about problems Whitewas having with his girlfriend, about work and life. “We just clicked,” Lewis said.
Boutte and Lewis both say they don’t know whether Victor White had a gun.
Boutte said that when White and his brother were rough-housing in the kitchen, she overheard White say, “Oh yeah, I got mine on me,” in reference to a handgun.
Said Boutte, “Leonard was like, ‘Pull it out,” and it was like, ‘No.’ They were playfighting. I know a lot of guys joke around about having [a gun], so I don’t know, as far as if it was true or not.”
Lewis also said he never saw a gun. Leonard White did not agree to be interviewed for this article.
Lewis and Victor White talked and drank for a while, and White asked Lewis if he would help him buy a small amount of marijuana. After they purchased $10 worth at around 11 p.m., Lewis said, the pair walked to the Hop-In, a gas station a few blocks away, to buy cigars.
According to Lewis and the manager of the Hop-In, while Lewis and White were inside the store, a fight started outside.
Two men in front of the store began shouting. One told the other he was going to get a gun. White told Lewis they should stay inside. A woman called 911. After the men ran down the street, Lewis and White left.
Around 11:30 p.m. White and Lewis were walking a few blocks down the road when a police cruiser slowed, Lewis said. According to a service report provided to NBC News by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, Corp. Justin Ortis asked the men to stop.
Ortis performed a “consented pat-down” of White, according to the report, and “located suspected marijuana in front pants pocket.”
They told the officer, Lewis said, that they could identify the men who were fighting. He said they offered to go to the convenience store with them, to talk to the clerk. “I said, ‘You can still probably catch them,” Lewis said. “You’re just burning time here. Victor said, ‘Why can’t you go back to the store and look at the camera?’ They said they didn’t have time for that.”
According to a public information officer for the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, no one was ever apprehended for that alleged offense.
Lewis said that after finding the marijuana, the officer told them, “I’m going to let y’all go, that’s nothing.”
But after the officer ran the men’s names through a police database, he called for backup. As they waited, White and Lewis sat on the ground in front of the police cruiser, headlights cutting into the dark.
By the time a second officer in a separate cruiser arrived, Lewis said, White had been handcuffed behind his back, and placed in the back of the first car. The police report says White was detained and read his rights.
According to the report, a second search of White produced the cigars and a small amount of cocaine, and White said both the cocaine and marijuana were his. “White was then transported to the patrol center to be questioned by narcotics detectives,” the report concludes.
The officers dismissed Lewis, and he walked back to his father’s house.
But by 5 a.m., Lewis said, detectives were knocking on his door, asking that he come to the station to answer questions about his friend. At no point throughout the course of the subsequent interview, Lewis said, did they tell him that White had died while in the custody of police officers.
“I try playing it out in my head,” Lewis said. “If we had different timing … I don’t know what went wrong exactly that night.”
Early on the morning of March 3, Rev. White and his wife Vanessa, 44, raced down Interstate 49 in their powder blue van, toward Iberia Parish, two hours south of their home in Alexandria. They’d received two disturbing and cryptic phone calls – one from their son, Leonard, and another from the Louisiana State Police. Both said they needed to get to New Iberia because “something had happened” to their son Victor.
“I tried not to think the worst of it,” Vanessa said. “I was never imagining that he had gotten shot.”
When they arrived in New Iberia, Rev. White said, a state investigator told him over the phone that his son was dead and that she was investigating the circumstances. Officials said the family would not be allowed to see the body. Rev. White rushed to the parish jail on Broken Arrow Road to find someone who could tell him what happened. After panicked phone calls to the local coroner and the doctor who pronounced his son dead, Rev. White was finally led into the parish morgue, where thebody lay waiting on the coroner’s slab.
Rev. White said that his son’s face seemed swollen, but he could not tell if it was the swell of death, or if his son had been hit. He noted a laceration on the left side of his face. He was not allowed to view the body below the chin.
“I saw distress in his face,” he said. “I saw death.”
As police investigators stood on either side of him, Rev. White performed the last rites over his son’s body, then left the room to tell his wife what he saw.
The press release stated that, “[Victor White III] was taken into custody, handcuffed behind his back, and transported to the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office for processing. Once at the Sheriff’s Office, White became uncooperative and refused to exit the deputy’s patrol vehicle. As the deputy requested assistance from other deputies, White produced a handgun and fired one round striking himself in the back.”