The following piece is from The Grio. It was written by Mwende Katwiwa.
By: Mwende Katwiwa
Most Americans are familiar with Harry Houdini. Houdini earned such notoriety for his famous escape acts that to this day criminals who get loose from their handcuffs are often described as having “Houdinied” their way out. In New Iberia, Louisiana, however, Houdini’s name is being used in a slightly different way to describe the alleged suicide of 22-year-old Victor White III who died in police custody in what family lawyer Benjamin Crump describes as a“Houdini handcuff” suicide that “defies all logic”.
At 11:22pm on March 2nd, 2014, a deputy from the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a fight at a convenience store. Minutes later, Victor White III and his acquaintance Isaiah Lewis (who were not involved in the fight but were present at the store when it happened) were stopped a few blocks away by Corp. Justin Ortis. According to an Iberia Sheriff’s Office service report obtained by NBC News, White consented to a pat-down during which Ortis “located suspected marijuana in [White’s] front pants pocket.” After back up arrived, an additional search was conducted on White resulting in the discovery of a small amount of cocaine. Lewis was let go, while White was placed in the back of a cruiser with his hands cuffed behind his back and transported to the Iberia Country Sheriff’s Office. That was the last time anyone other than law enforcement saw White alive.
The night White was arrested, his father, Reverend Victor White II, called the sheriff’s office looking for his son. He was told that his son had never been arrested and was not in their custody. It wasn’t until a friend told him about a press release the Louisiana State Police posted on their Facebook page that Rev. White found out what happened to his son:
TROOP I NEWS RELEASE
March 3, 2014
State Police Investigate In-Custody Death of Iberia Parish Man
Iberia Parish — Early this morning, Louisiana State Police Detectives began investigating the death of 22 year old Victor White III of New Iberia after he was found deceased of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Troopers began the investigation at the request of Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.
The initial investigation indicates that last night at about 11:22 p.m., deputies with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office were responding to the report of a fight in the 300 block of Lewis Street. Upon responding to the area, deputies located White and discovered he was in possession of illegal narcotics. White 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. White was transported to a local hospital by ambulance where he was pronounced dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Detectives are continuing to investigate the circumstances of the case.
The family hired Carol Powell-Lexing and Benjamin Crump and sought to get more information from the Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana State Troopers, but little was revealed until the coroner’s report was released on August 25th, 2014. The report revealed that White’s fatal gunshot wound actually entered the right side of his chest and exited under his left armpit (unusual, since White was a left-handed). Abrasions and gunshot residue were found on White’s body, but the report did not indicate whether his hands were tested for the substance. Despite these inconsistencies, Iberia Parish coroner Dr. Carl M. Ditch neglected to change the ruling on Victor’s death from a suicide to a homicide.
So why hasn’t the name Victor White III been constant in mainstream media coverage surrounding police impunity and violence in relation to the Black community? Even though White has occasionally popped up in mainstream media sources such as CNN and The Washington Post, it’s rare to hear his name in the media or in conversations and actions I’ve been a part of from Ferguson to Washington D.C. to New Orleans.
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