MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Chavis Carter's family hasn't accepted the official explanation for his death: that he was on meth when he fatally shot himself while his hands were cuffed behind him in the backseat of a patrol car in Arkansas.
The family portrays the 21-year-old as a bright, young man who aspired to be a veterinarian, who liked shopping for sneakers and playing basketball. As questions swirl about how and why Carter died, his family also has been demanding more answers from authorities.
"If he did it, I want to know how it happened," his grandmother, Anne Winters Carter, said in an interview. "And if he didn't do it, then we want justice."
Jonesboro, Ark., police have faced criticism because they say officers searched Carter twice but didn't find a gun before they noticed him slumped over and bleeding in the back of a patrol car July 28. Questions about race have cropped up too, because Carter was black and police said the two officers who stopped the truck he was in are white, as were the other people in the vehicle.
The local branch of the NAACP has called for a thorough investigation, and the FBI has said it's monitoring the case. Carter's grandmother and his mom, Teresa Carter, are also working with a high-profile legal firm that represented O.J. Simpson.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is supposed to weigh in on the case Wednesday in Memphis before leading the family in the latest prayer vigil in Jonesboro.
Some of the family's supporters marched through Jonesboro on Tuesday. One woman had a sign that read, "Stop the lies!! No suicide." That march came a day after a candlelight vigil was held for Carter in Memphis and police released an autopsy report from the Arkansas state crime lab that deemed his death a suicide.
Carter had a past – court records show he had an arrest warrant stemming from a drug charge in Mississippi – but his family says there was more to his story. They described him as a good kid who liked bugs and animals.
"He used to always say, `The world gonna know my name,'" said Bianca Tipton, one of Carter's friends. "Now the world do know his name."
After graduating from high school in 2010, Carter got some general courses out of the way and was planning on taking classes at a college in Arkansas this fall.
He used to go shopping for sneakers with his grandma. Jordans were his favorite, especially a blue and white pair.
"Everything had to match," Winters Carter said.
The ruling that his death was a suicide was confounding to her and others who knew Carter. It's not just that he was searched and handcuffed. They note that Carter was left-handed but was shot in his right temple.
"If he's double-locked and ... he's shot in his right temple, but he is left-handed, that's the part I don't understand," Winters Carter said.
Police have released video showing how a man could put a gun to his temple while his hands were cuffed behind his back. They shared footage recorded by dashboard cameras the night of the shooting and sent out a copy of the autopsy report.
"There's no other explanation to this ... other than that he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger and that's what we call a suicide," said Stephen Erickson, a medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.
Toxicology tests showed Carter's blood tested positive for at least trace amounts of the anti-anxiety medication diazepam and the painkiller oxycodone in addition to a larger amount of methamphetamine. His urine test also returned a positive result for marijuana.
Erickson said Carter was under the intoxicating effects of meth at the time of his death. It wasn't clear if he was under the influence of marijuana or if the positive test came from a past use.
"The methamphetamine is going to play a large role in his mental status," Erickson said, adding that he couldn't tell how it affected his behavior because people react differently.
Winters Carter said she was surprised by the toxicology results. She didn't know whether he was on any medication recently and she didn't know of any drug problems with her grandson.
"When he got to Jonesboro, I can't really say," she said. "But with me, no. And if he did, I didn't see it."
At the candlelight vigil for Carter outside the National Civil Rights Museum, family members and supporters focused on his accomplishments and passions, not the drugs found in his system.
Kia Granberry held up a stone before she prayed with the small crowd.
"People brought to Jesus a woman who may have had a troubled past and when they asked Jesus what to do to the woman, he said, `Cast the first stone,'" she said. "So I want to remind you when people judge you or people say what they want to say about your son and your brother and your cousin, you remind them to cast the first stone."
Associated Press photographer Danny Johnston contributed to this report.
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.