August 6, 2012
Chavis Carter, a black man, was in a parked truck with two white men on the night of July 29, when it was approached by a police officer after a 911 caller said the vehicle had been traveling along a street with its lights off. The officer called for backup, and another policeman soon arrived at the scene.
Carter, who at first gave a false name, was searched and police said he was carrying $10 worth of marijuana. He was then put in the back of a patrol car without being handcuffed. When a computer check revealed a warrant had been issued for Carter's arrest for violating his probation in a 2010 drug case, he was removed from the patrol car, searched a second time, handcuffed and put into the backseat of the vehicle.
What happened next is cause for great suspicion — and a federal investigation.
Did he commit suicide?
According to police, Carter somehow managed to get a gun and fired a single shot into his head. Just how the police officer who searched Carter was able to find what amounted to a dime bag of pot but missed a small-caliber handgun is a mystery to a lot of people.
And so, too, is how Carter could have shot himself in the head, even though "his hands were still cuffed behind his back," according to the police report. His mother, Teresa Carter, told a Memphis, Tenn., television station that police said her son was shot in the right temple. But, she said, Carter was left handed.
It is, of course, theoretically possible that the 21-year-old was an ambidextrous guy whose fingers were nimble enough to pull off a nearly impossible bit of marksmanship with a gun that a cop overlooked while searching him. Or, failing that kind of "Ripley's Believe It or Not" scenario, the possibility of police foul play has to be seriously considered.
During an interview with national television network, HLN, Jonesboro police chief Michael Yates tried to have it both ways. He said what happened to Carter was "definitely bizarre and it defies logic at first glance, so we're actively trying to determine how that happened."
But then, when he was asked why cops listed Carter's death as a suicide, Yates said: "It appears that's what it is. … We've reviewed the dash-cam video and as late as today … had some witnesses come forward who observed the incident from start to finish, and their statements tend to support" the cops' contention that they had nothing to do with Carter's death.
So why hasn't the police department released the videotapes from the two police cars?
Yates says that won't happen until after the investigation has been completed. You can take that to mean there's nothing on them that clearly shows Carter shooting himself, or which exonerates police of having any hand in his death. If there were, the Jonesboro Police Department would be holding hourly screenings of that footage. Instead, the police cling to the old dodge that the video can't be released because it is evidence in an ongoing investigation.
But in the absence of some visual evidence that Carter managed to put a bullet through his own temple while his hands were cuffed behind his back, the Jonesboro police contention that he did just that will indeed defy logic. And, give the state of Arkansas another well-deserved 'black' eye.