PUBLISHED: 08:12 EST, 12 August 2012 | UPDATED: 08:27 EST, 12 August 2012
- Chavis Carter was arrested in Jonesboro, Arkansas, on July 28 after police found $10 worth of marijuana in his pocket
- Police say they failed to discover a .380-caliber handgun in two searches
- Activists are skeptical of the police version of events and compare the case to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Sean Bell in 2006 in New York
Outrage is growing over police claims that a 21-year-old man shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a squad car last month.
Chavis Carter was arrested on July 28 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, after police found a $10 baggie of marijuana in his pocket following a search during a routine traffic stop.
Police say they missed the .380-caliber handgun Carter was carrying during two searches and that he was able to pull it out and commit suicide. But his family and activists are skeptical and claim his is one more wrongful death of a young black at the hands of authorities.
Skeptical: Chavis Carter’s family says he wasn’t suicidal and they are doubting the official police version of events in his shooting
Bizarre: Police in Jonesboro, Arkansas, say they missed the small handgun Carter was carrying and only found it after he had shot himself in the temple while being held in a squad car
‘If you could find a dime bag of marijuana on a person, you could find a .380,’ his great-aunt, Cassie Carter, said.
Local authorities are now investigating Carter’s death, and the FBI is monitoring the case. Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates said this week it appears that Carter shot himself, but he said he’s waiting on autopsy results which could provide more details about the shooting.
In the meantime, Carter’s great-aunt said supporters are planning a vigil Sunday night in a park in Tunica, Mississippi, not far from where Carter used to live in Southaven, Mississippi. Supporters also have been expressing their doubts about the police account online.
Columnists and pundits have been skeptical of the official police story — comparing it to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teen who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer who claimed self defense, and Sean Bell, a New York man shot four times in 2006 when police opened fire on his car as he was leaving a nightclub because they thought he had a gun.
‘How do you shoot yourself in the head with your hands handcuffed behind your back? Police are out of control,’ rapper Talib Kweli wrote earlier this month on Twitter.
Wanted: Officers discovered a $10 baggie of marijuana in Carter’s pocket and also discovered he was wanted on a warrant from Mississippi
A Facebook group called ‘Justice for Chavis Carter’ says: ’21 year old Chavis Carter was shot in cold blooded murder. This was NOT A suicide attempt.’ It has nearly 3,000 followers.
Carter’s great-aunt said she has been wondering the same thing, especially since her great-nephew didn’t seem to have a sad bone in his body.
‘It’s hard for me to accept the fact that he would do something like that due to his personality,’ Cassie Carter said by phone from Lorain, Ohio, where she lives.
‘How do you shoot yourself in the head with your hands handcuffed behind your back? Police are out of control.’
Rapper Talib Kweli on Twitter
Russell Marlin, a Memphis-based attorney representing Carter’s mother and grandmother, declined to talk about what they believe happened. But Carter’s mother, Teresa, told a Memphis television station that her son wasn’t suicidal.
Police said video and audio recordings, as well as statements from witnesses, show neither officer pulled his weapon nor fired a shot during the traffic stop. However, police have refused to release those recordings, citing the ongoing investigation.
Yates said investigators have figured out several ways someone could shoot themselves while handcuffed, although he refused to describe them while the investigation was under way.
Jeff Walker, who chairs the criminal justice department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, agreed it was possible.
‘It is very, very, very rare and usually it’s on a missed gun,’ he said.
Yet, less than two weeks after Carter was shot on July 28, police in Mobile, Alabama, said a man shot himself in the torso while he was handcuffed in the back of a squad car.
That 51-year-old man survived, Mobile police spokeswoman Ashley Rains said. She said officers responding to a report of a domestic dispute on Wednesday found two knives when they searched the man but missed the gun.
Yates, the police chief in Jonesboro, about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock, said most officers eventually miss something in a search.
Rallying cry: Carter’s death has been compared to the shooting of Trayvon Martin as well as wrongful police shootings in the past
‘Most of them, sooner or later, you find yourself in a position where you missed a knife or a firearm or some drugs or a razor or something like that,’ he said.
In Carter’s case, the searches came after police received a report of a suspicious vehicle driving up and down a residential street in Jonesboro. Police pulled the truck over and frisked or patted down the three men inside.
One of the officers found marijuana in Carter’s pocket and placed him in the back of a patrol car, without handcuffs, according to the police report.
Carter gave police a false name, but at some point, they learned who he was and that there was an arrest warrant for him in Mississippi. Court records show it had to do with a drug case out of DeSoto County.
One of the officers handcuffed Carter, searched him again and put him back in the patrol car, police said.
The officers spoke to the other men in the truck for a while and then released them because they didn’t have any outstanding warrants, police said. As the officers were getting ready to leave, one smelled something burning and noticed Carter slumped over in the patrol car.
He was covered in blood, according to the police report, which concluded he had managed to conceal a handgun he used to shoot himself. He later died at a hospital.
Both officers are on paid leave while the investigation continues.