When people end up dead in police custody, there are always questions. But when 21-year-old Chavis Carter was found handcuffed and shot to death in a back of a police car, many are having a hard time believing the police’s explanation.
According to Jonesboro, Arkansas police, Carter was detained after police searched a car he was riding in and found drug paraphernalia. After searching Carter, police allege they found a small amount of marijuana on him, and searched him again before placing him in the back of a police car.
A police officer on the scene says he was heading back to his patrol car to talk to two other men they had detained with Carter when he “heard a loud thump with a metallic sound,” but thought the sound belonged to a car on the road.
As the truck drove away, Baggett says he heard Officer Marsh on the radio then felt “several thumps” on the trunk of his car as Marsh sought to get his attention.
He said that he and Marsh returned to Marsh’s patrol car, where they found Carter “in a sitting position … slumped forward with his head in his lap.” Baggett’s report said there was “a large amount of blood on the front of his shirt, pants, seat and floor.” Baggett states that Carter’s hands were still cuffed behind his back and that he was still breathing. The officer said he radioed for EMS and for a supervisor.
Baggett stated that Marsh attempted to remove the handcuffs from Carter but was unable to because of the position of Carter’s body. Baggett’s report says Marsh found a small caliber handgun, “secured it,” then placed it on the trunk of Marsh’s patrol car.
Despite the police’s insistence that the incident was a suicide, Carter’s mother questions this claim. According to Teresa Carter, her son was not suicidal and she doubts he’d even be able to shoot himself in the right temple considering his hands were cuffed behind his back and he was left-handed.
Although Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates says this incident “defies logic,” he stands by his officer’s claims that Carter’s death was a suicide. “We’ve seen some people do some remarkable things,” Yates told HLN’s Jane Velez Mitchel. He also said that witnesses near the scene “tend to support” his officer’s claims.
The Jonesboro police have a contentious relationship with the African-American community, and this incident has only continued to harm relations. In an attempt to assuage the community’s concerns, Chief Yeats told residents the FBI will be investigating the case.