The FBI said Thursday it will join the police investigation into the death of Chavis Carter, the 21-year-old man shot in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car in Jonesboro, Ark.
The investigation comes amid lingering questions over who pulled the trigger. Police said he committed suicide with a gun officers failed to find when they searched him. His family members said they believe he was killed by police who are attempting to cover it up.
Carter suffered a single, fatal gunshot wound to the head. He was detained on Saturday night following a traffic stop in Jonesboro, about 2 1/2 hours north of Little Rock, after officers said they found marijuana and empty baggies. Officers searched him twice, handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a police car, police said. Not long after, police said, he was found slumped over, with his head in his lap and a gunshot wound to the head.
“We’ve been asked to get involved,” Kim Brunell, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Little Rock office, told The Huffington Post on Thursday. The bureau's ballistics experts will join the probe, she said.
Police said Carter retrieved a gun that he’d concealed, raised it to his head and pulled the trigger. A clear case of suicide, they said. The handcuffs, they said, were “double locked.”
“Any given officer has missed something on a search, you know, be it drugs, be it knives, be it razor blades," Sgt. Lyle Waterworth of the Jonesboro police told a local news station. "This instance, it happened to be a gun."
Several calls to the Jonesboro Police Department were not returned. But Chief Michale Yates told Jane Velez Mitchell on HLN that the death is "definitely bizarre and defies logic at first glance."
“We are actively trying to determine how that happened,” Yates said.
“There’s no indication of any projectiles coming from outside the vehicle. We’ve reviewed the dashcam video and as late as today managed to have some witnesses come forward that observed the incident from start to finish," Yates said. "And their statements tend to support that whatever transpired in the back of that police car transpired in the back with the officers in a different location.”
The two officers on the scene the night of the shooting have been placed on administrative duties, according to reports.
Teresa Carter, Chavis Carter’s mother, told reporters that she believes the police killed Carter and are now attempting to cover it up. She said her son suffered a wound to his right temple, though he was left-handed. And just minutes earlier during the traffic stop, according to Teresa Carter, her son had called his girlfriend and told her he’d call later from jail.
Charles Coleman, a member of the Jonesboro City Council, told HuffPost that while the circumstances of Carter’s death beg a few questions, he is reserving judgment until an official investigation finishes.
“All I know is that the incident happened,” Coleman said. “Other than that, I’m just waiting to hear back” from the police department and the FBI.
“You can ask any officer anything you want, but it doesn’t mean they are going to tell you anything,” Coleman said. “Until there’s an investigation, you’re like any other person hearing pieces of the news. I’d rather have it documented in black and white.”
Coleman said that he is encouraged that the FBI is getting involved, to “give a non-biased” look into what exactly happened.
Meanwhile, the local NAACP plans a candlelight vigil in honor of Carter, who was from Mississippi but had family in the Jonesboro area.
Perry Jackson, president of the newly formed Jonesboro NAACP, said that an official statement would be forthcoming, but in the meantime local leaders would be meeting to determine a productive course of action.
Two Justice for Chavis Carter Facebook pages have been set up and Jonesboro residents are galvanizing around his death. Friends and supporters have left condolences and expressed disdain for the police.
One poster wrote:
I DIDN'T KNOW THIS YOUNG MAN BT WE AS A PPL NEED TO TAKE A STAND IF WE DON'T THINGS LIKE THIS WILL ALWAYS HAPPEN THIS YOUNG MAN COULDVE BEEN ANY OF OUR LIL BROTHERS,COUSINS OR WHATEVER. THE TIME IS NOW WE MUST STAND UP FOR THIS YOUNG MAN AND LET OUR VOICES BE HEARD!
Sherman Pye, who runs a bail bond office in Jonesboro, said the anger people feel has less to do with Carter’s race, and more with the lack of transparency and answers about what happened.
“It’s not that we are trying to help him or stand up because he’s black, it’s because of his situation, that’s the main focus,” Pye said. “It’s that he’s a human being, a young individual.
“It’s more or less everybody waving the red flag, saying what is going on, not picketing or rioting or acting ill-mannered,” Pye said. “Everybody is just on pins and needles waiting to see the outcome. We just want to make sure he’s dealt a fair deal. We’re not here to convict anyone, we just want clarification.”
Police Chief Yates said that while what happened might seem "bizarre," he said officers have seen other feats of dexterity by people in handcuffs.
“We’ve seen people in handcuffs do some remarkable things -- smoke a cigarette, talk on a phone," Yates said during his interview on HLN.
Chavis Carter Found Shot In The Head While In Patrol Car
On Saturday evening, July 28, Chavis Carter was shot in the head and killed while handcuffed in the back of a police car in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The 21-year-old had been stopped by police that night and found with marijuana on his persons, as well as a warrant for his arrest out of Mississippi. Prior to placing Carter into the back of the patrol car, police handcuffed him behind his back and searched him twice. Minutes later, a "thumping noise" was heard, according to the police report. The officers then discovered Carter shot in the head and reported his death a suicide. The officers involved in the incident were placed on paid leave.
Jonesboro Police Launches An Investigation
By Wednesday, Aug. 1, the Jonesboro Police Department had launched an investigation on Carter's death to determine what happened that night. Sgt. Lyle Waterworth said that he thinks Carter shot himself with a hidden gun. "Any given officer has missed something on a search, you know, be it drugs, be it knives, be it razor blades," said Waterworth in an interview with WREG-TV. "This instance, it happened to be a gun."
Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates Calls Shooting "Bizarre"
On Wednesday evening, Aug. 1, Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates revealed to HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell that certain details of the Chavis Carter investigation were "bizarre" and "defies logic and certain glance." Yates also spoke about the content found on the car's dashboard camera. "There's no indication of any projectiles coming from outside the vehicle," Yates told Velez-Mitchell. We've reviewed the dashcam video and as late as today managed to have some witnesses come forward that observed the incident from start to finish." "And their statements tend to support that whatever transpired in the back of that police car transpired in the back with the officers in a different location," he added.
FBI Joins Investigation Into Who Shot Chavis Carter
The FBI joined the Jonesboro Police Department's investigation of Chavis Carter's death on Thursday, Aug. 2. "We've been asked to get involved," Kim Brunell, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Little Rock office, told The Huffington Post. Charles Coleman, a member of the Jonesboro City Council, told HuffPost that the FBI's involvement would "give a non-biased" look into what happened.
Supporters and Family Hold Candlelight Vigil
Supporters of Chavis Carter and his family gathered on Monday, Aug. 6, for a candlelight vigil. Attendees mourned Carter's death with handmade posters at the First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Chavis Carter 'Suicide' Reenactment Video Released By Jonesboro Police
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, Jonesboro Police Department released a re-enactment video demonstrating how a person handcuffed in the same manner as Carter could feasibly shoot himself in the head. "The following representation is anon-evidentiary reproduction of facts and circumstances associated with the pending investigation of the Chavis Carter in-custody death," read the disclaimer prompt in the video. "The circumstances displayed are not intended to illustrate the only means by which an individual could injure themselves but merely to determine the feasibility of these actions."
Police Release Video And Audio From Night Of Chavis Carter Shooting
Joneseboro authorities released dashcam evidence and 911 audio recordings from the night of Carter's shooting on Thursday, Aug. 16. The video shows Carter and two other men stepping out of a pickup truck after being stopped, answering the officers' questions, and being handcuffed. What the video does not show is the moment the gun goes off and no gunshot is heard on either the audio or video recording.
Police Reveal Chavis Carter Autopsy To Public
On Monday, Aug. 20, police released an autopsy report from the Arkansas state crime lab that determined Carter's death a suicide. "There's no other explanation to this...other than that he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger and that's what we call a suicide," Stephen Erickson, a medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, told the Associated Press. Toxicology tests that had been performed on Carter's blood returned trace amounts of the anti-anxiety medication diazepam and the painkiller oxycodone in addition to a larger amount of methamphetamine. His urine tested positive for marijuana, although it was not clear if that came from past use. "The methamphetamine is going to play a large role in his mental status," Erickson told the AP.
Police Say Chavis Carter Called Girlfriend From Squad Car
Carter's girlfriend claimed he called her from the patrol car the night of his shooting and told her he had a gun, said Jonesboro police on Wednesday, Aug. 22. She also told the investigator that Carter had said he was scared and said he loved her. Police verified her claims with phone records that reportedly showed that Carter had made two calls, one of which they claim was from the back of the police car.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Joins Outcry Surrounding Investigation
Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Chavis Carter's family, including his mother Teresa Carter, and dozens of supporters for a prayer vigil held in Jonesboro on Wenesday, Aug. 22. The event was held in the same location where Carter was arrested and killed. "We hope that people concerned about justice, white and black, would find some common ground as we pursue this case justice," Jackson told reporters before the march, according to the Associated Press. "We simply want justice and fairness in the land...We are convinced the explanations given so far are not credible ones."
Police Department Reprimands Officer Who Frisked Carter
On Tuesday, Aug. 28, Jonesboro Police Department announced that Officer Ron Marsh had been formally reprimanded for failing to frisk Carter thoroughly and not checking the back seat of the patrol car where Carter was placed. Marsh will also be required to undergo training as a result. Both Marsh and the second officer who had been placed on administrative leave during the investigation have returned to work. Statements from eyewitnesses, text messages and video and physical evidence established that Baggett didn't violate any policy or procedure, Yates told the Associated Press in an email. The absence of any gunshot sounds in the dashboard audio and video, which authorities chalked up to technical difficulties, has still left the lawyer for Carter's family skeptical of the department's conclusion. The police plan to continue an investigation into the drug-trafficking elements of Carter's case, as the FBI continues to monitor the case.