The Arkansas police department investigating the mysterious death of Chavis Carter, who suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car, has released a video recreation of what it believes could have happened the night Carter was killed.
Jonesboro police say the 21 year old shot himself not long after being pulled over and detained on July 29, after two police searches uncovered a small amount of marijuana but no weapon.
Carter was placed in the rear of a squad car. Not long after, police say one of two officers on the scene smelled smoke, opened the car’s rear door and found Carter slumped over and bloodied.
The police say a small handgun and a spent cartridge were found in the backseat with Carter.
Carter was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. The Southhaven, Miss. man’s death has roiled nerves in Jonesboro and has drawn national media scrutiny. The FBI has also joined the investigation into Carter’s death.
Carter’s family and supporters believe the police killed Carter and are now attempting to cover it up. Teresa Carter, Carter’s mother, claims that while her son was shot in the right temple, he was left-handed. And that he made a phone call during the initial traffic stop in which he told his girlfriend that he would call her from jail, behavior that Carter’s supporters say is counter to that of a suicidal person.
Jonesboro police say they found a small, .380 caliber handgun and a spent cartridge in the backseat with Carter the night he was killed. They say officers simply overlooked the weapon when they searched Carter, twice.
The police have maintained their suicide theory. In the days after the shooting Police Chief Michael Yates called Carter’s death “bizarre,” and said that it “defies logic at first glance.” But in recent days Yates has reaffirmed the department’s stance that Carter took his own life.
When questioned by CNN’s Randi Kaye about the likelihood of someone being able to raise a pistol to his or her head while in the cramped back seat of a police car with hands handcuffed behind his or her back, Yate’s said “it’s very possible and it’s quite easy.”
“The average person that’s never been in handcuffs, that’s never been around inmates and people in custody would react exactly the same way that you just did, about how can that be possible,” Yates said. “Well the fact of it is, it’s very possible and it’s quite easy.”
Yates has also said that eye witness accounts and dashcam video support the account given by the two police officers on the scene when Carter was killed.
Those officers, Keith Baggett and Ron Marsh, remain on paid leave as the investigation into Carter’s death continues.
On the opening screen of the video reenactment released by police and first aired on KAIT 8 in Jonesboro early Tuesday morning, a message from the Jonesboro Police Department reads that the video is a “non-evidentiary reproduction of facts and circumstances associated with the pending investigation of the Chavis Carter in-custody death.”
The purpose of the video, the message continues, is to investigate “the possibility that an individual, hand-cuffed behind his back, may or may not have the ability to use a concealed firearm in a manner that would give rise to his or her death.”
An officer -- about Carter’s height and build, with his face blurred -- can be seen wriggling his handcuffed hands from behind his back and then raising a toy gun to his head.
“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," the video states. "The investigation is active and awaits forensic and other investigative material that will be used to complete a full inquiry into this matter.”
Meanwhile, community pressure continues to mount on the police department and Yates, whose resignation has been called for by local community activists.
The Arkansas Chapter of the Commission on Religion and Racism scheduled a march Tuesday morning in Jonesboro. And others have claimed that Yates’ past racially-tinged brush ups with the black community have clouded this already mysterious case.
In 2004, the local branch of the NAACP in Americus, Ga., where Yates had been police chief, rallied and campaigned to oust Yates after he allegedly conducted an illegal background check on the organization's then-vice president Craig Walker, who had been an outspoken critic of Yates' police department. Walker claimed that the department had routinely abused black residents.
Yates voluntarily stepped down.
On election night in 2008 Yates again was at the center of controversy, this time in Jonesboro.
As a crowd of African American residents -- many of them youth and college students -- gathered at an apartment complex to celebrate President Obama’s victory, police arrived. Someone had called in to 911 and reported “200 black people” were screaming outside and that he feared for his life, according to local news reports.
An arriving officer reported that items were being thrown, eventually triggering the officer to hit his “emergency button.”
What followed was nothing short of an all-hands-on-deck dispatch that included all city patrol officers, the K-9 and SWAT units, county sheriffs officers, the State Police and Arkansas State University campus police.
The incident came to be known as the “Obama Riot.”
In all, eight young black men were arrested that night. Seven of them were charged with inciting a riot, a felony. One of the men was also charged with second-degree battery on an officer for allegedly pinning down a female officer and punching her repeatedly in the face.
But according to witness statements given to the Arkansas Times, the problems didn’t begin until the police arrived.
“We were all having fun,” Alexandra Ingram, a senior at ASU, told the newspaper. “We were all dancing, hugging, taking pictures. It was nothing of a violent attitude toward anyone. We were hugging people we didn't even know. We were just celebrating.”
But after the wave of officers descended upon the complex, the celebration devolved into “a night from hell.”
“It was handled in a way that it shouldn't have been,” Ingram said. “They were very forceful when they came to us. They were very demanding and using curse words and pushing. It was a night from hell.”
Students and activists claimed the police brutalized revelers and denounced the police department and Yates, whose leadership they’ve questioned in the wake of the event.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story identified KAIT 8 as a Memphis station; it is in Jonesboro.
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.