2 IMPD officers indicted on felony counts for death of man experiencing ‘mental health crisis’

Herman Whitfield in April 2016. (IL file photo)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated as of 3:20 p.m. on April 13.

Nearly one year to the day after Herman Whitfield III died while in the custody of Indianapolis police, two officers have been charged with multiple felonies in connection with his death. The other four officers involved in Whitfield’s death will not be charged.

A Marion County grand jury indicted Adam Ahmad and Steven Sanchez, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office announced Thursday, the same day the indictments were filed.

Ahmad is facing five charges including Level 5 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and battery resulting in serious bodily injury, a Level 6 felony count of battery resulting in moderate bodily injury and a Class B misdemeanor count of battery.

Sanchez is facing the same charges, plus one additional count of Level 5 felony involuntary manslaughter.

Both men have retained attorneys John Kautzman and Edward Merchant of Ruckelshaus Kautzman Blackwell in Indianapolis. Kautzman and Merchant released the following statement Thursday afternoon: “A Grand Jury convened by Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears today indicted two IMPD Officers arising from an incident that occurred in the performance of their duties. These charges only represent probable cause to hold a trial and are not proof of guilt. Officers Ahmad and Sanchez have no previous criminal or disciplinary history. The merit of these allegations will ultimately be determined through due process in a court of law and we ask the public to allow that process to play out. The officers look forward to a full and fair opportunity to defend themselves in court and establish that they did not act illegally or with any type of criminal intent. We also ask that you continue to support all of the officers of IMPD as they endeavor to protect our City.”

Whitfield, 39, died on April 25, 2022, after being tased and restrained by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers while in their custody. His parents had called police to the family home that day because Whitfield was experiencing a “mental health crisis.”

According to a federal complaint filed by the Whitfield family last summer, Whitfield was not acting violently or threatening the police officers who responded to his parents’ call.

A critical incident video stated that Whitfield had been throwing things and ran at an officer. Subsequently released bodycam footage showed Whitfield was unarmed, naked and trying to get away from police before he was tased by Sanchez. In the footage, Whitfield is heard saying he couldn’t breathe.

After he was tased and handcuffed, the federal lawsuit claims Whitfield was left lying on his stomach while officers put their weight on his back for three to four minutes. He eventually lost consciousness and was never revived.

The indictments charge Ahmad and Sanchez with involuntary manslaughter by touching Whitfield “on the head, neck and/or torso, in a rude, insolent or angry manner.” The battery resulting in serious bodily injury charges relate to Whitfield’s loss of consciousness.

The additional involuntary manslaughter charge against Sanchez relates to his use of the Taser.

IMPD released a statement Thursday regarding the indictments, according to WTHR in Indianapolis: “Earlier today, Chief Randal Taylor learned the grand jury decision regarding the death of Herman Whitfield III. Chief Taylor respects the grand jury process. As with anyone under indictment, the officers should be considered innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. The officers involved, including those indicted, remain on paid administrative duty status while the internal process continues. Mr. Whitfield’s death was a tragedy for all involved, and our thoughts continue to be with those impacted by his loss.”

In a press release issued after the incident in April 2022, IMPD claimed Whitfield had “moved quickly toward an officer,” prompting the officer — Sanchez — to fire his Taser.

The federal lawsuit — Estate of Whitfield v. City of Indianapolis, et al., 1:22-cv-01246 — lists Ahmad and Sanchez as defendants alongside four other IMPD officers: Matthew Virt, Dominique Clark, Jordan Bull and Nicholas Mathew. Those four officers were not indicted on Thursday.

Indiana Lawyer reached out to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office for clarification on whether the grand jury considered charges against Virt, Clark, Bull and Mathew, or whether those charges could be forthcoming. In response, a spokesperson for the office said only that, “These officers (Ahmad and Sanchez) are the only officers who will face charges as it relates to this matter.”

An amended federal complaint filed last November alleges the city of Indianapolis and the officers violated the Fourth Amendment; the city is answerable to battery and negligence claims under the Indiana Tort Claims Act; and the city is legally responsible for Whitfield’s death under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The family is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

Online court records indicate a settlement conference was held in the federal case on March 27 but was unsuccessful.

In a statement released Thursday, attorneys for Whitfield’s family reiterated their position that he “did not present a danger to the officers, and there was no need to taser him. Mr. Whitfield, who was in his family home, needed professional mental health care, not the use of excessive deadly force.”

The statement noted Whitfield’s death was ruled a “homicide,” and it supported calls for the Department of Justice to investigate the incident.

“The family is grateful that the criminal process will proceed and hope that justice for their son will prevail,” the statement added.

The cases filed Thursday in Marion Superior Court 29 are State of Indiana v. Steven Sanchez49D29-2304-F5-010443, and State of Indiana v. Adam Ahmad, 49D29-2304-F5-010447.

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