The strange death of Victor White and the strange dearth of national news about it

By Robert Mann

It’s been more than a month since the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., captivated the nation. It started with the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in the majority-black suburb of St. Louis. Brown, a 18-year-old black man, died at the hands of a white Ferguson police officer who shot him six times after a street confrontation.

Thank God for the news media that remain focused on the investigation into the shooting, as well as the continuing protests.

Were it not for the national attention, local authorities might have escaped scrutiny. Instead, the coverage forced Attorney General Eric Holder to order a federal civil rights investigation into Brown’s death.

Bravo to the black residents of Ferguson, whose long days of massive protests focused the nation on their years of harassment by the city’s predominantly white police force.

Meanwhile, 740 miles to the south, the good people of New Iberia, La., must wonder if they should start a riot to get the national media to pay attention to what happened in their town on the night of March 2.

In many ways, the tragic events in Iberia Parish are no less shocking and even more perplexing than whatever occurred in Ferguson.

Here’s what happened: After stopping and searching 22-year-old Victor White III, an Iberia Parish sheriff’s deputy arrested him for cocaine possession. The deputy allegedly found the drug on White after searching him a second time. White’s wrists were handcuffed behind his back and he was placed in the rear seat of the patrol car.

Shortly after arriving at the sheriff’s office, however, he was dead from a gunshot wound.

The first official report of the incident, a statement by the Louisiana State Police, claimed White “became uncooperative and refused to exit the deputy’s patrol car.” As the deputy called for backup, the State Police said, “White produced a handgun and fired one round striking himself in the back.”

From there, it devolved into a jumble of official contradictions and confounding questions.

Iberia Parish Coroner Dr. Carl Ditch, in a report released in August, disputed parts of the initial State Police report. White had been shot through his lateral right chest, Ditch said. Yet, he concluded that White had committed suicide.

You read that correctly.

The coroner determined that a left-handed man, hands shackled behind his back in the rear of a police cruiser, found a gun, contorted his body Houdini-style and shot himself between his right breast and right armpit.

How he supposedly obtained this gun has not been explained. How a deputy might have searched White twice, found cocaine, but never detected a gun, has not been explained. How a gun might have ended up in the back of a police car has not been explained. Why authorities originally said White was uncooperative, but later changed their story and did not mention it, has not been explained. Why authorities never tested White’s hands and clothing for gunpowder residue has not been explained.  (His clothes reportedly were destroyed.)

Most perplexing, of course, is how White managed to shoot himself in the chest. This has not been explained. A State Police report was completed in recent days but has not yet been made public.

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