New York Times Magazine contributor Nathaniel Rich's exquisitely reported and deeply sourced story about the suspicious 2014 death of Victor White III in the back of an Iberia Parish Sheriff's vehicle is long-form journalism at its best.
It's been almost three years since White, the son of a CenLa preacher, died under improbable circumstances Iberia Parish officials ultimately wrote off as a suicide. White died from a single gunshot wound officials say he inflicted on himself while his hands were cuffed behind his back in the back seat of an Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office vehicle. White's incredulous father, the Rev. Victor White, never bought the official account and has been fighting to uncover the truth ever since, as Rich's exhaustive account of the incident reports.
The story also introduces us to one of the most odious figures in South Louisiana law enforcement, Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal, who, incredibly, was cleared by a federal jury in Shreveport on charges of directing deputies to brutalize inmates — charges that were corroborated by several underlings who testified against him.
From "The Preacher and the Sheriff," published today:
New Iberia, a small city surrounded by sugar cane 100 miles west of New Orleans, is bisected by railroad tracks. North of the tracks, where residents are predominantly white, most believed that Victor White III committed suicide. In the largely black neighborhoods south of the tracks, most residents shared the Whites’ conviction that their son was executed by the cops. In the months of heartbreak and rage that followed, New Iberians tended to believe the official account of the “Houdini suicide” to the extent that they approved of the performance of Louis Ackal, the sheriff of Iberia Parish.
Ackal — who declined multiple requests for comment for this article — was the most powerful man in town and perhaps the most popular. A fourth-generation New Iberian, he was a southern Louisiana politician in the old mold: charismatic and irascible, given to country bromides and plain-spoken provocations, antagonistic to the regional press and civil-liberties groups, chummy with the political class, a friend to many and a bully to the rest. He smoked cigars and kicked his boots onto his desk during meetings. He had come to office as a reformer, pledging to bring integrity to the police force and criminals to justice — to, as he put it in a campaign speech, clean up “a terrible mess.” To the satisfaction of a plurality of voters, he had succeeded.
Set aside a half hour today and check it out here. It's a good read.
The Independent also reported extensively on the case. Search "Victor White" at theind.com to read our past reporting.