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Coroner says man fatally shot himself in the chest while handcuffed behind his back

Published time: August 26, 2014 16:53
AFP Photo / Sean Gardner

AFP Photo / Sean Gardner

​The release of an autopsy report in Louisiana is raising new questions about the unusual shooting death of a 22-year-old black male who died earlier this year in a police car while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

RT reported earlier this year that police in Iberia Parish, LA said Victor White III died in early March after he fatally shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a squad car. White had reportedly been apprehended for possession of drugs, and was searched no fewer than two times before being cuffed and placed in the backseat of a police vehicle. According to the police report from the time, White uncovered a gun while in the car and shot himself in the back.

According to a coroner’s report just recently obtained by NBC News, however, White died from a gunshot wound that entered his body in the chest. Nevertheless, Dr. Carl Ditch wrote in the report that White was capable of firing the shot while cuffed “due to his body habitus” and has agreed to rule the death a suicide.

Hannah Rappleye, a reporter for NBC, compared the coroner’s story with the official police report from March in an article published by the outlet this week.

“White was shot in the front, not the back. The bullet entered his right chest and exited under his left armpit. White was left-handed, according to family members. According to the report, the forensic pathologist found gunshot residue in the wound, but not the sort ofstipplingthat a close-range shot can sometimes produce. He also found abrasions on White’s face,” she wrote. “And yet, despite the contradictions – and even though White’s hands were never tested for gunpowder residue – the Iberia Parish coroner still supported the central contention of the initial police statement issued back in March.”

"Although the decedent was handcuffed at the time with his hands to his back, due to his body habitus, the pathologist and investigators agree that he would have been able to manipulate the weapon to the point where the contact entrance wound was found," Ditch wrote.

The deceased’s father, Rev. Victor White II, told NBC that he had his doubts about the coroner’s report.

“You can’t make me understand,” he 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.”

According to the coroner, however, White was indeed capable of causing his own death.

“As Coroner of lberia Parish it is my duty to rule on cause and manner of death in all such cases as Mr. White's to the best of my ability and without bias. Based on the forensic evidence and information gained from the ongoing State Police investigation, I have determined the cause of death is a single contact gunshot wound to the right lateral chest, and the manner of death is suicide,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, though, the Louisiana State Police remain in the midst of an investigation launched nearly nine months ago into the shooting death. Writing for NBC, Rappleye wrote that that probe has so far failed to reveal any new information about the tragic death.

“Due to the pending investigation, records normally considered public are not available. The State Police will not yet release dash cam footage, or the number of or names of any officers present during White’s death. They will not give any timeframe as to when they expect the investigation to conclude,” she wrote.

“You always want to make sure in the end you did whatever you could do possible, that in whatever case you put forward, is the right case, and the outcome is the right outcome,” Trooper Brooks David, public information officer for the Louisiana State Police, told NBC. “So if it takes us eight months, or two months, you always want to make sure that you do the right thing.”

According to Rev. White, however, legal action might be the next step if the eventual release of the Louisiana State Police’s report raises more doubts about his son’s death.

“I don’t’ think anything is going to be different from what they already said,” he told NBC. “It’s difficult to see that anything else would bring us back what we need. The only thing we want back is our son.”

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