NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors said on Tuesday they are investigating the shooting death of a black man in the back of a Louisiana police car that had previously been ruled a suicide.
The family of Victor White III, 23, who died in March while handcuffed and in the custody of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, has disputed a coroner’s finding that he killed himself.
“This tragic incident deserves a full review of the evidence,” Lafayette-based U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said in a statement. “Our objective is to discover the truth.”
Benjamin Crump, attorney for the White family, said the incident is similar to the 2012 death in Arkansas of Chavis Carter, calling them both “Houdini Handcuff” cases, in reference to famed escape artist Harry Houdini.
Like White, Carter was shot while handcuffed in the back of a police car, with his death ruled a suicide.
The federal probe of White’s death, which is being carried out by Finley’s office together with the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, will “supplement, rather than supplant” an ongoing state police investigation into his death, Finley said.
“Once the investigation is complete, we will carefully review the results to decide if any prosecutable violations of federal criminal civil rights statutes occurred,” she said.
White died in early March in Iberia Parish, about 100 miles west of New Orleans, after being stopped by police in connection with a fight, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper.
The Louisiana State Police initially said that White was shot in the back, the Advocate reported, while the subsequent coroner’s report - which corroborated his death as a suicide - found he was shot in the chest.
The Louisiana State Police and the Iberia Parish coroner did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Beech