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High-profile civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump is calling on the Justice Department to investigate the death of Victor White after a Louisiana coroner declared that he shot himself while handcuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser. "We need an independent investigation into these proceedings," Crump said at a press conference with the 22-year-old man's parents. "They just want the truth. They want the answers."
He said the scenario described by police and the coroner's report — which was obtained exclusively by NBC News a week ago — "fundamentally defies all kinds of logic." White's father, a Baptist minister who has the same name, said he's certain he didn't commit suicide after being arrested March 3: "My son had too much going on in his life at that time to take his life."
Crump, who also represents the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, said the White case is part of a troubling pattern of what he called "Houdini handcuff suicides" — including the 2012 death of Chavis Carter, 21, in Arkansas and the 2013 death of Jesus Huerta, 17, in North Carolina. "This is why we believe this is bigger than just a state issue," he said. "This is a federal issue."
The Florida-based attorney questioned why police initially said White was shot in the back but the coroner's report found he was shot in the chest; how a left-handed man could have shot himself in the right side; how police managed to find drugs on the suspect's body but not a .25 caliber handgun; and why the deceased's hands were not tested for gunshot residue. "We think the Justice Department has to do an independent investigation," Crump said.
A spokesman for the Louisiana State Police, which is overseeing the current probe, said its inquiry was nearly done and that investigators would present finding to the district attorney this week. Crump's demand for federal intervention "doesn't change how we do our business," said Capt. Doug Cain. "We're strictly interested in finding the facts."