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Chavis Carter, 21-year-old who Jonesboro, Arkansas, police say shot himself while handcuffed with a hidden gun they didn't find in two searches.
Chavis Carter, the 21-year-old who Jonesboro, Arkansas, police say shot himself
while handcuffed, using a hidden gun they didn't find in two searches.
A civil rights organization is calling for the resignation of the Jonesboro, Arkansas, chief of police in the wake of the shooting death last month of 21-year-old Chavis Carter while handcuffed in the rear of a police cruiser. Police say Carter shot himself with a pistol they hadn't found in two searches. Meanwhile, as a consequence of local and national pressure in the case, the Jonesboro police released a video "reenactment" Tuesday showing how they think it is possible the young black man could have shot himself in the right temple while restrained in the back seat of the cruiser as two officers stood close by.

The video clearly shows that someone can shoot himself while handcuffed behind his back. But plenty of other questions remain. And the Arkansas Chapter of the Commission on Religion and Racism don't think the chief of police now in charge is the guy who will deliver the answers. They want him out.

The suicide-while-handcuffed claim has been ridiculed as everything from highly suspicious to impossible by community members, civil rights groups, newspaper pundits and a string of YouTube commentators. Carter's mother said her son was not suicidal, something backed up by the fact Carter called his girlfriend during the stop to tell her he was going to jail. Then there is the matter of why the .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun used in the shooting was nowhere to be found in the two searches. The fact that the police chief left a previous position after complaints about heavy-handedness and allegedly racist behavior has added to tensions.

Carter was riding in a pick-up truck with two others late July 29 when they were pulled over by a Jonesboro patrolman who had been alerted by a 911 phone call saying a truck was being driven suspiciously, with its lights off. The patrolman obtained identification from the two white men in the vehicle but, he wrote in an official report, Carter initially gave him a false name.

After the arrival of a second officer, they discovered in a search of the vehicle that they said the driver agreed an electronic scale containing a strong smell of marijuana and a bag of granulated white powder that the driver said might belong to his mother, the truck's owner. That powder has not yet been publicly identified. In a search of the three men, Carter was found in possession of some empty plastic bags and an estimated $10 worth of marijuana. Even for the cheapest borrow-pit pot on the planet, that couldn't have been more than five grams.

The officers say they placed Carter in the back of one of the cruisers, but not handcuffed. When they discovered his real name and that he was wanted on an open warrant for probation violation on a first-time charge for selling marijuana in Mississippi, they removed him from the vehicle, searched him again and handcuffed him behind his back. They released the other two men who drove away.

Shortly afterward, after sniffing something burning that they thought to be "gunsmoke" (the distinctive smell of cordite), they discovered Carter slumped over, covered in blood, wounded in the temple, with an expended cartridge and the pistol in the locked back seat of the cruiser. Carter was still breathing then, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The police reported the shooting as death by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and they have stuck with that ever since, belligerently so, according to some critics. The two officers are on paid administrative leave.

The unwillingness of the police chief, Michael Yates, to deal with the sense of alarm in black community in Jonesboro has been a cause of increasing criticism and tension.

Yates was already unpopular among Jonesboro residents for his resistance to increasing the diversity of the police force. Of 149 officers, only three are African American even though 12 percent of the city's population is black. They also criticized him for the way he handled a celebration of the election of Barack Obama in 2008 by some college students. One student was allegedly knocked to the ground and repeatedly kicked by officers. Yates was previously chief of police in Americus, Georgia, but left that post under a cloud that included complaints of racism.

The FBI says it is investigating the case.

Among the critics have been Charles Blow, columnist for The New York Times, who wrote on August 3:

How do police officers search a man twice and find a small amount of marijuana but miss a handgun? And how does that man, who had been handcuffed, use that gun to shoot himself in the head?

We may have a possible answer to the second question. It can be done. But there's still that first question. There is also a third question. Even if he had managed to hide a gun from officers, why would Carter shoot himself?

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 03:29 PM PDT.

Also republished by Police Accountability Group and Daily Kos.

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