Lawyer for White family calls for U.S. Justice Department investigation

Carol Powell-Lexing, right, attorney for the family of Victor White III, speaks Wednesday in front of the Iberia Parish Courthouse with the White's parents, Vanessa White, left, and Victor White Sr. White III, who died in law enforcement custody March 3 after shooting reportedly himself while handcuffed behind his back, held a press conference in New Iberia and called for an investigation of the U.S. Justice Department. 

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Lee Ball / The Daily Iberian

The family of Victor White III, the New Iberian whose death while in custody of the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office was ruled a suicide, has hired a lawyer who is asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the circumstances of the shooting that killed the 22-year-old man.

In a press conference in front of the Iberia Parish Court Building Wednesday, Monroe lawyer Carol Powell Lexing blasted the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office and the Iberia Parish Coroner's Office for what she characterized as a "coverup of police brutality."

"We just totally can't believe the coroner released such a bogus report that Victor White III killed himself," Powell Lexing said.

Iberia Parish Coroner Dr. Carl Ditch defended Monday an anatomical summary of White's autopsy which states White died at 1:13 a.m. March 3 of a single point-blank gunshot through his lateral right chest in a suicide. Ditch claimed White, who was handcuffed with his hands to his back in an IPSO police cruiser at the time, could have manipulated the handgun to the point of entry, which appears to be between his right breast and right armpit based on the autopsy and a subsequent prepared statement.

"He is not Houdini," Powell Lexing said. "He is not David Copperfield nor is he a descendant of either.

"There is no way on God's green Earth that someone handcuffed behind his back can shoot himself through his chest," she added.

The lawyer claimed she had evidence sheriff's deputies beat White when they arrested him for possession of narcotics following the report of a fight in the 300 block of Lewis Street at 11:22 p.m. March 2. She identified the arresting officer as Justin Ortis and said his Facebook page, which includes a post justifying a photo of an officer slamming a man in a chokehold to the ground, indicates his violent character.

"He has already shown us on his website that he is a badass," she said.

Powell Lexing said there is a "rat to be smelled" in reference to State Police claims the handgun used was not one used by Iberia deputies. She also accused investigators of taking too long to submit "crucial" evidence such as dash video camera recordings or simply ignoring tests such as those for gunpowder residue on one's hands or arms.

"Everyone knows, the public knows police officers carry what are called 'throw-down guns,'" she said.

Powell Lexing said she has been in talks with the U.S. Justice Department and is seeking an independent autopsy by famed New York pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, whose resume includes autopsies on President John F. Kennedy and, most recently, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

She added national media outlets, including MSNBC, also have contacted her and the White family on this story. Following the press conference, Powell Lexing suggested future public response could mirror the protesting in Ferguson following Brown's killing.

"The country is in an uproar," she said. "The country wants accountability."

As for the State Police investigation, Trooper Brooks David, public information officer, said he believes it will be finalized as early as this week and will be made public once investigators meet with the family and hand it over to the 16th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

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