INDIANAPOLIS — In the wake of two IMPD police officers being indicted in connection to the death of Herman Whitfield III, the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police is calling on police officers to no longer respond to mental health disturbances unless a known crime or articulated threat has taken place.
Whitfield, 39, died after police were called to his parents’ house on April 25, 2022. He was in the midst of a mental health crisis which led to his parents calling 911 for assistance.
Police ultimately ended up using a stun gun on Whitfield after officers arrived at his home and found him naked and sweating; officers’ attempts to communicate with him largely unsuccesful.
Whitfield can be heard on body camera footage saying “I can’t breathe” while he was on the floor and handcuffed by officers. He died at the hospital.
A Marion County grand jury has since indicted IMPD officers Steven Sanchez and Adam Ahmad on multiple counts, including involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and battery. In response to these criminal charges, the Indy FOP is calling upon the IMPD Chief of Police to stop sending officers to mental health crisis runs.
The FOP said all Indianapolis runs for people suffering from a mental health crisis (including self harm) should be referred to Indianapolis EMS and the Indianapolis Fire Department and only have officers called to the scene if there is “a known crime or articulated threat of a crime has taken place.”
In some ways, the FOP’s call to halt officers responding to mental health disturbances aligns with demands made by advocates of the “Defund the Police” movement. Protestors who support the restructuring of policing policies have often called for police to not be first responders in calls involving mental health disturbances and for the creation of social and health services that respond to these types of calls instead.
Defund the Police argues that police officers are “a dangerous option for people experiencing a mental health crisis” and that these encounters can lead to the person suffering from a mental health episode winding up dead — such as in Whitfield’s case.
The FOP stated their call for officers to stop responding to mental health crisis calls does not include a change in funding, only a change in response protocols and dispatch protocols.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department responded to the FOP’s call by stating the following:
The IMPD is constantly evaluating our policies, training, and response to runs involving those experiencing a mental health crisis and other calls for service. We plan to meet with our public safety partners in the near future to discuss this very topic. Working together we can improve the safety for everyone in our community.IMPD
The Office of Public Health and Safety responded with the following:
The Office of Public Health and Safety has a strong partnership with IMPD in keeping our community healthy and safe. We will continue to build on innovative strategies to effectively respond to neighbors in their time of need, including the Assessment and Intervention Center, Mobile Crisis Assistance Teams, and the upcoming Clinician-Led Response Team.Office of Public Health and Safety
Indianapolis EMS said the following:
Indianapolis EMS continues to engage our public safety partners in appropriate responses to these types of calls in a way that ensures the safety of the patient and on-scene medical and law enforcement providers. Ultimately, when someone calls for help, they need to be assured that the necessary services will arrive and that includes those which also protect our IEMS providers.Indianapolis EMS
Read the FOP’s full response and other reactions to Whitfield’s death by clicking here.