In a Louisiana town with railroad tracks serving as a literal racial divide comes the story of a young black man who died after supposedly shooting himself on March 3, 2014—a "Houdini suicide" that cops say he pulled off while handcuffed in the back of a police car. But in a longer look for the New York Times, Nathaniel Rich gets into the other side of Victor White III's fate, which his father, the Rev. Victor White, says was not a self-inflicted death at all, but murder at the hands of law enforcement. In the developments located south of the train tracks in New Iberia, mostly black communities, residents believe the senior White's assertion that his son was executed by the police. Meanwhile, on the northern side, the mostly white residents are sticking with the police account.
Smack in the middle of the controversy is the town's sheriff, Louis Ackal, whom Rich describes as "a southern Louisiana politician in the old mold"—meaning hostile to civil liberties groups and the press and tending toward "plain-spoken" language. Ackal had swept into office on the premise of cleaning up crime in New Iberia, as well as pledging to reform the relationship between cops and the community. But White says Ackal was "intimidating" and "arrogant" right from the start, and more importantly, he thinks the police under Ackal's charge were responsible for his son's death, prompting him to start investigating "Little Vic's" demise himself. He also fears his own history may have contributed to the tragedy. Read what White found out, and what he's tried to do regarding Ackal since, in the Times. (Did this Muslim Marine recruit really kill himself?)