Ethel, LA — A mentally ill man was killed this week as he ran away from police after allegedly stealing a box of eggs and raw chicken, according to the man’s family. Early Monday morning, Christopher Whitfield, 31, was gunned down by an East Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s deputy who has yet to be named.
Whitfield was running from police when he was shot, his family said. He’d allegedly run away from the gas station with a box of chicken and some eggs. Before he was killed, Whitfield had reportedly broken into a cooler behind the gas station where he took the items.
According to his family, Whitfield struggled with mental illness throughout his short life. Although he had previous run-ins with the law, according to his family, he was not violent, never carried guns, and didn’t pose a danger to law enforcement officers.
“I don’t think he should have been shot,” Myrtle Jackson, the dead man’s grandmother told the Advocate.
As the Advocate reports:
An alarm about 2:30 a.m. Monday brought deputies to a Texaco gasoline station off La. 10, the Sheriff’s Office said. When they confronted a man — identified by his family as Christopher Whitfield, 31 — he fled on foot and an unknown deputy shot him behind the gas station. The store’s owner said the man had broken in and stolen raw chicken from a cooler.
East Feliciana sheriff’s Chief Deputy Greg Phares confirmed that the deputy shot the burglary suspect behind the gas station, but Phares declined to say what led to him firing or if Whitfield had a weapon.
Phares says the deputy who fired the shots has been placed on leave while the investigation is pending. It’s not known whether it’s paid or unpaid leave.
According to police, Whitfield was arrested for trying to steal food from that very same gas station back in 2010. He was also shot by police then as well, but he lived. He had since been banned from the property.
It has now been 3 days since the deputy killed Whitfield and they sheriff’s department has refused to release any other details. Rest assured, however, if Whitfield would have had a gun, this detail would have already been released. The silence from the sheriff’s department is suspect, to say the least.
Adding to the already suspicious nature of Whitfield’s death is the fact that the sheriff’s department is investigating themselves.
Though the Louisiana State Police are assisting with the investigation, the EFPSO is the lead agency on the case, meaning that they’re investigating themselves.
“We all have a natural tendency to want to do it ourselves. I don’t fault them for that. Certainly that’s not what the best practices are around the country,” local attorney, Don Cazayoux, who is not affiliated with the case said. “There’s a lot of pressure, maybe not even actual pressure, but perceived pressure to sort of help their brethren, their friend, their fellow officer.”
Indeed. In case after infuriating case, TFTP has reported on departments investigating themselves — even in clear cut cases of brutality and murder — and finding their actions justified. Often times, police officers are cleared by their own department only to be arrested months down the road by federal agents.
Whether or not we will find out what actually happened in this incident is a crap shoot. None of the officers involved were wearing body cameras and the only other non-police officer witness to the shooting is dead.