LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- An Arkansas police officer was reprimanded for not properly searching a young man who authorities said subsequently shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.
Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates said Tuesday that an internal investigation found Officer Ron Marsh did not conduct a thorough enough search of 21-year-old Chavis Carter before Carter's July 28 shooting death. An autopsy determined Carter shot himself in the head while he was under the influence of meth, though his family has continued to demand more answers about his death.
Marsh and another officer who stopped the truck in which Carter was a passenger were placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, and Yates said they have since returned to work. Marsh will also have to undergo more training, in addition to the formal reprimand issued this week.
Marsh didn't return a message left at the police department.
Police said the two searches of Carter turned up a small amount of marijuana but no gun. Questions about race have cropped up, too, because Carter was black and police have said Marsh and the other officer involved are white.
Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis, Tenn., lawyer representing Carter's family said he found it troubling that Marsh was returning to work so soon.
The internal investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of the other officer, Keith Baggett, Yates said.
Statements from eyewitnesses, text messages and video and physical evidence established that Baggett didn't violate any policy or procedure, Yates said.
"Based upon these facts and circumstances I made the decision to return them to active duty status," Yates told The Associated Press in an email.
Authorities said they presume Carter hid the gun in the back of the patrol car after the first pat-down, before he was handcuffed and searched again.
Marsh's official reprimand letter, obtained by the AP under a public records request, said that in addition to not searching Carter properly the first time, he also failed to search the back seat of the patrol car.
The letter, signed by a supervisor and dated Monday, said "a search of the back seat unit was not conducted at that time, despite the fact that he had been seated in the unit for several minutes uncuffed."
Police said an investigation into Carter's death and drug-trafficking associated with the case is ongoing. The FBI has said it is monitoring the case.
"It has been clearly and unequivocally established that Carter took his own life while under the influence of mind-altering drugs and while engaging in a series of criminal acts," Yates said in an email. "In preparation for civil action, the investigation continues so that we may identify all parties associated with the case and seek additional witnesses if they can be identified and located."
Police previously released video recorded from dashboard cameras the night of the shooting, but the footage didn't appear to show when officers found Carter slumped over and bleeding in the backseat of a patrol car as described in a police report.
Authorities said there were problems with the audio and video that explain the absence of a gunshot or noise on the recordings, though the lawyer for Carter's family hasn't accepted that explanation.
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.