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Federal authorities confirmed Tuesday that they had launched an investigation into the shooting death of 22-year-old black man who died in March while in the backseat of an Iberia Parish, Louisiana police car.
The family of Victor White III had demanded a Justice Department probe after the Iberia Parish coroner ruled that White, whose hands were cuffed behind his back, had committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a handgun. The full coroner's report, exclusively obtained by NBC News, indicated that White had died from a single shot to his right chest, contradicting the initial police statement that White had shot himself in the back.
"This tragic incident deserves a full review of the evidence; our objective is to discover the truth,” said Stephanie Finley, the U.S. Attorney for Western Louisiana. "FBI agents, along with attorneys from my office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, will carefully review the results of the current investigation by the Louisiana State Police, will determine what additional investigation, if any, is necessary to determine who fired the fatal shot, and whether the evidence demonstrates a willful civil rights violation."
FInley said the investigation will "take time to complete," and will "supplement, rather than supplant," the investigation by state officials.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represents the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, said at a press conference with White's parents on Monday that the White family wanted an "independent investigation" by the Justice Department.
Carol Powell-Lexing, a local civil rights attorney who is also representing the family, called the coroner's version of events a "Houdini" scenario, and told NBC News she was pleased with the Justice Department's announcement of an investigation. "We feel that it's necessary because all the discrepancies from the beginning of the case have mounted into an avalanche of discrepancies."
A spokesman for the Louisiana State Police, which is overseeing the current probe, said its inquiry was nearly done and that investigators would present their findings this week. "We're strictly interested in finding the facts," said Capt. Doug Cain.