The Mysterious Death of Chavis Carter, Who Police Say Shot Himself While Handcuffed in the Back of a Police Car

On July 29 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, 21-year-old Chavis Carter and two companions were pulled over for suspicious driving. Police searched the car and found about ten bucks worth of marijuana, some baggies, some scales, and an as-yet-unidentified white powder. Carter's companions were let go, but Carter was put in the back of a patrol car because he had given cops a fake name and had skipped out on a drug diversion program in Mississippi (he had plead guilty to one count of selling marijuana). Carter was first uncuffed, then cuffed after a second search revealed the aforementioned charges, as well as scales and white powder. Somehow, at some point during that evening, Carter ended up shot in the head while cuffed and apparently left alone long enough to pull out a 380-caliber Cobra semi-automatic from...somewhere. Cops say it was self-inflicted, other people have different ideas.

Obviously, this story has several of the necessary elements for media to pay attention this time. A nicely skeptical CNN report reveals further questions by pointing out that Carter's mother says her son was let handed, but he shot himself in the right temple (cops won't confirm), also that he called his girlfriend when he was getting arrested and said he would call her later, suggesting that suicide over ten bucks worth of weed was not on the man's mind. The Jonesboro chief of police Michael Yates that CNN reporter Randi Caye interviews, near the end of the report won't confirm that investigators (which now include the FBI) have ruled out that Carter was killed by one of the officers on the scene, though the chief says it doesn't seem to be what happened. He also admits that nearby officers' apparent inability to tell what gunfire sounds like (Caye is incredulous while asking this question) is not a good sign. It is also "disappointing" that the officers found the drugs and paraphernalia, but missed a gun.

There were dash cams on both police cruisers present at the scene, but they were parked back to back, therefore the shooting was not captured on video.

Autopsy and other investigations are still pending. In the meantime, the Jonesboro police have made the following video to confirm that yes, it is possible to shoot yourself in the head while cuffed.

That seems to confirm that it is possible, and Gene Lyons, a writer for Illinois' Morris Daily Harald says that this story is not as strange or disturbing as it seems:

Because at second glance, the Sherlock Holmes aspect of Carter’s death strikes me as not so mystifying at all. Analysis of text messages on his cellphone appear to indicate that Carter had carried a gun earlier that night. It’s common for suspects to ditch contraband in the backs of patrol cars; not uncommon for cheap semi-automatic handguns to discharge accidentally. As tempting a storyline as it makes to suggest otherwise, any reasonably agile young man can do all kinds of seemingly improbable things wearing handcuffs.

Despite the incredulity of journalists like The New York Times columnist Charles Blow regarding Carter’s alleged “suicide,” the term Jonesboro cops have used is “self-inflicted gunshot wound” — not the same thing. Preliminary investigations aided by dashboard cameras, audio recordings and witness statements indicate that neither officer went anywhere near Carter subsequent to his being placed in the patrol car. That’s not to hold them blameless. A proper search should have found the gun.

The department has invited the FBI to conduct a separate probe. At minimum, a painstaking investigation is required to maintain – or, if necessary, to restore – public confidence in the integrity of law enforcement.

It may have just been negligence on the part of law enforcement, though the point that cops are not saying it was suicide seems dubious, considering how clearly deliberate (not fumbling with a cheap gun and trying to hide it) the act is made to look in the above reinactment. Even the chief of police has not denied that that gun should have been found. Nevertheless, no matter how Carter died, finding drugs, but missing a weapon is a neat, sad little microcosm of where law enforcement priorities have been pushed in the last few decades. 

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  • Tim||

    Drug war claims another victim.

  • R C Dean||

    not uncommon for cheap semi-automatic handguns to discharge accidentally.

    Umm, what? Even cheap guns experience mechanical failures almost . . . never.

    And how often do they discharge "accidentally" while pointed at your skull?

    But, of course, nothing else will happen. In fact, I predict that at least one cop will get a nice long "disability" leave for the trauma of being, at a minimum, a blithering incompetent.

  • Chris Mallory||

    I am guessing this gun was the Cobra CA series .380. Very possible it might be missed in a cursory search. It is a rebrand of the old Raven firearms. After handling a Raven .22 many years ago, I wouldn't even give one to someone I hated. Every Raven I have ever seen had mechanical failures quite often. I saw one fire while the shooter was racking the slide, his finger outside the trigger guard.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    While I am skeptical of the police account, there are plenty of accounts of people accidently shooting themselves. In the head seems difficult however.

    I seriously doubt suicide was the motive. Trying to pull a concealed weapon to ditch in the car would be highly likely.

  • Paul.||

    And a thorough autopsy will confirm this. If carter has powder burns on his temple, that will indicate a contact shot, like the intentional ones implied in the attached video. An accidental discharge that might have occurred with Carter ditching the gun (presumably from a back pocket-- entirely possible given the circimstances: sitting, cuffed in the back of a cruiser, struggling to get the gun out of the back of your pants etc.). In the case of the AD (and I'm not going to get into a pedant war about "accidental vs negligent'. Any unintended discharge is accidental, but the cause may have been negligence), the powder burns will probably be much lower, possibly on his clothes around his waist.

    Luckily, the victim is black so the media will follow this closely and we may get some real answers.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    the media would be even more over it if it was a pretty white girl, but I guess I can only ask for so much....

    i do agree that the powder burns will answer alot of questions.

  • Invisible Finger||

    people accidently shooting themselves

    ...means something different than "gun accidentally discharged."

  • Copernicus||

    I am imagining John Travolta shooting Marvin in Pulp Fiction as an explanation for this.

    Just waiting for the police to call in the Wolf.

  • Randian||

    One of the dumber cinematic characters of our time, TBS.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    John Travolta...in anything...I agree.

  • Loki||

    You'd like to think Travolta was just acting, but I highly doubt it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I use the muzzle of a gun to scratch my temple all the time, but I'm never foolish enough to use a cheap gun to do it.

  • Broseph of Invention||

    Hey, remember that girl that was killed by the gun that discharged, which just happened to be held by a police officer? Maybe it was one of those.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Nice PR move making the instructional video. It's unfortunate the beginning of the show got cut off, where it explains how to hide a gun from an even cursory search.

  • Tim||

    " were pulled over for suspicious driving. "
    He couldn't drive a car normally but he did manage to shoot himself with his non-dominant hand, in the head, wearing handcuffs.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    I think its a terrible PR move because it presupposes suicide, which is the most dubious assumption at this point.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    A modern day Houdini.

  • sarcasmic||

    Would have been a better demonstration if the officers had blown their brains out.

  • ||

    not uncommon for cheap semi-automatic handguns to discharge accidentally

    Total fucking bullshit. But hey, let's propagate lies if it helps the police get away with murder.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    what's the motive for murder? while I think most investigations into police misconduct are woefully inadequate, I can't make the leap that they pull over a group, let everyone else go, arrest him on what sounds like a legitemate charge, but then decide to shoot him. I just can't make that leap in logic yet.

  • niobiumstudio||

    There are so many unanswered questions and the in-car camera and mic will answer them. He could have been arguing/fighting with the cop and then the cop found the gun while he was being hostile. He could have threatened him - a million things could have provoked the cop to shoot him. Zip tie your hands together and try to put a "gun" to your temple - it isn't the easiest thing to do...and don't forget modern hinged handcuffs don't allow you to rotate your wrists at all.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    I don't have to put the gun to my temple. I can point it at my head from my hip and lean over the barrel. But that still assumes that I'm trying to kill myself, which I really don't buy in this case. Accidental shooting is a much higher probability.

    Police executing a suspect in the back of the squad car is still very improbable.

  • niobiumstudio||

    Very true, I wasn't thinking that since they said he was shot in the temple and I immediately thought of a typical "TV-Type" suicide. That, and it is much harder to shoot yourself in the temple from the hip, in cuffs, with a single shot than it is to say, shoot yourself under the chin up into your brain or back into your spinal cord. Think about it - if you were shooting from the hip at yourself, you would want to see the barrel - and under the chin is the most logical place to do it - not to turn your head to the side and blindly fire and hit perfectly your target on the first time. Even if that's what he was trying to do, it's still an extraordinarily awkward shooting position.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    its a terrible shooting position, which is why i don't buy the suicide argument and the cops should have almost dismissed that out of hand.

    Something's wrong about the explanation right now, but I don't know which way to lean, except that I'm sure the cops are trying to explain it in a way that makes them look the least incompetent and thuggish.

  • niobiumstudio||

    Exactly - not to mention since one of the witnesses is no longer breathing, due to the large hole in the side of his skull, and the other witness has every incentive to keep it quiet, I have to naturally lean toward suspicion on the side of the police. The story is completely absurd and until they prove beyond a doubt that this man did in-fact, somehow Houdini himself to death, I am going to not believe the police here.

  • Ted S.||

    There are so many unanswered questions and the in-car camera and mic will

    ...malfunction.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Could have been an accidental discharge by the police. Still think the police shouldn't get away with manslaughter.

    And if the perp has dirt on the officer - something along the lines of "Hey, Officer Johnson, how's the weed I sold you yesterday?"

    Yeah, we will never know. But I see no reason to ever give the police the benefit of the doubt.

  • nipplemancer||

    Let's give the Chief the benefit of the doubt and events occurred as he claims. Shouldn't he be moving to fire his criminally stupid cops who missed a firearm on two searches, not to mention that they couldn't recognize the sound of gunfire or the scent of a firearm discharge that any shooter would immediately recognize?

  • ||

    Come on, nipplemancer... You seriously think these cops should be FIRED for being criminally stupid? We all know that kind of discipline is reserved for cops who rat on other cops.

  • nipplemancer||

    You're right. He probably just ordered the plaque and put in the papers for their promotions.

  • niobiumstudio||

    Hey, the police have absolutely no obligation to protect us - don't get any funny ideas about him being liable for anything! So what if he missed the gun - he doesn't HAVE to find it...

  • ||

    How long till this thread gets Tulpical?

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    no sooner than it gets Dunphied.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    I haven't yet heard the Mayor of Phila. opine that this was an "Assasination" as he immediately did in the Treyvon Martin incident. I guess until Jesse and Al get involved and there's a bunch of tv cameras around, he sees no need to poke his nose into something he knows nothing about.

  • niobiumstudio||

    This is certainly way the fuck up there on most ridiculous excuses for a murdering asshole cop. So we are supposed to believe that this man, cuffed, pulled the gun out of his ass, chambered a round (if he needed to), took off the safety, got his handcuffs to the front of his body without dropping the gun, using his non dominant hand, put the gun up to his temple and shot himself in the back of a police car. Attempt to put your hands up to your temple while your hands are in a position like they would be with modern hinged handcuffs (which can't twist)...it's very hard - not to mention you aren't in the back of a cop car... Can't wait for the ballistic report with the angle of entry, which no doubt will be inconclusive. I really hope this actually goes somewhere, unlike the other 99% of cop murders...

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    You're assuming he didn't have the gun already loaded and safety off. I don't think either of those are safe assumptions. Think of that football player that shot himself in the leg at that New York nightclub.

  • niobiumstudio||

    Yeah that's true, Plaxico Burress proved that point... though, racking the slide and taking the safety off would be the easier of those actions to complete. I feel like getting handcuffs to the front in the police car would be VERY hard and getting the gun to your temple even harder considering you can't twist your wrists at all. This just seem's WAY too convenient of a way for him to be dead.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    Do all guns have a slide? Could it have been an old school hammer design?

  • niobiumstudio||

    It was a .380 semi-auto - not a revolver. Even if it was an old school "hammered" Single Action semi-auto (like a Colt 1911), you still need to rack the slide to chamber a round. With the exception of a few very expensive, strange Italian designs, all semi-autos need to have the slide racked to chamber a bullet.

  • Chris Mallory||

    The Beretta Jetfire isn't that expensive or strange and is about the same size as this Cobra.

  • niobiumstudio||

    Yeah, those Berettas were the exact pistol I was thinking about when I made that exception about "strange Italian designs". I always thought they were more money than that though - guess I was wrong about that. But, Cobra still doesn't have a tilt barrel type design like Beretta.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    well if it was a semi-auto, could it have been racked already?

  • niobiumstudio||

    Yes, it could have. I just included that step since it COULD be required (if the gun did not have a round in the chamber). It could have been the case that it was already chambered, hammer back, and safety off as gangsters oft carry their pieces (which is how people shoot themselves in the dick without touching their guns).

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Let's give the Chief the benefit of the doubt and events occurred as he claims. Shouldn't he be moving to fire his criminally stupid cops who missed a firearm on two searches, not to mention that they couldn't recognize the sound of gunfire or the scent of a firearm discharge that any shooter would immediately recognize?

    No kidding. If the union were in any way interested in "professional standards" or even a simple baseline level of competence (STOP LAUGHING!) the two cops involved would have been excommunicated ten seconds after the told their preposterous fairy tale. As it is, I think we all know how this will play out.

  • niobiumstudio||

    [Excerpt from Union Press Release]:
    Move along, nothing to see here. Procedures were followed and the officers reacted with their instinctual training. This man was a hardened, murderous drug dealer and was so intent on not going back to prison that he took his own life. These officers are heroes who reacted professionally under this most unfortunate situation...

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Obviously, it would be ridiculously easy for a nimble, limber young black man to slip his handcuffed hands under his butt and around to the front of his body, pull his piece, shoot himself in the head, and then return his hands behind his back in order to baffle the police and cast doubt on their story. It's just vindictiveness.

  • Michael||

    Ummm...

    Morris Daily Harold

    Just sayin'.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    Those handcuffs in the re-enactments look suspiciously loose. Look how far apart their hands are, and look how far up their forearms they ride. I have never been handcuffed, but one of the common complaints is that police tighten them as much as they can, both to make sure they don't come off and to make them painful.

  • ||

    They do. And they are painful, and the entire purpose of handcuffs is to make sure you can't do anything wacky.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    also to see if they can wrench your shoulder out of its socket.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I think the narrative that he was placed in the unit uncuffed first is to suggest he removed the gun at that time and hid it in the car seat, therefore the second, more thorough search would not have revealed it.

  • niobiumstudio||

    But where (and why?) would you stash a gun in the back of a police car? Most cruisers have those nasty plastic seats (so they can be hosed out) and have no rugs, cracks, crevices, cup-holders, etc. that can be used as a hiding spot. I agree that's what the police want you to believe, but it just seems incredibly implausible.

  • JD the elder||

    As for "why" - so it's not found on you at the station, of course. "But wouldn't they find it in the car?" Of course...at which point you can argue that it must have been put there by someone else arrested earlier that day.

    This is why cops are supposed to search their vehicle before they go out and after every time someone has been in it. People have, I believe, successfully argued in court that because the cop admitted he didn't search his vehicle that day, the contraband might have already been there when the arrestee was put inside.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    In which case, why is there a place to hide stuff in the cop car's back seat?

  • niobiumstudio||

    There isn't (if it is a typical police car). Typically it is a hard plastic seat, with a single, small depression for you to put your cuffed hands in (which isn't deep enough to hide things in) with nothing else in the car. There is sheet metal surrounding the seat with plexiglass/metal grating to the front. There is absolutely nowhere to stash a gun, or anything else for that matter, in a typical Police cruiser ( http://mycarquest.com/wp-conte.....00x225.jpg ).

  • Auric Demonocles||

    You'd ninjad me with a more in depth post.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The last police car I sat in back of, earlier this summer, it had standard seats. There might still be more municipalities still not springing for molded back seats than you might think. It's hard to tell from the video but it looks like Jonesboro might still be using OEM rear seats.

  • R C Dean||

    The last police car I sat in back of, earlier this summer,

    Yes? Do tell.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Nothing sordid. My buddy was in the front seat waiting with the back door open for his customer to be brought out for him, so I hopped in to complain how the glass divider made it so that air conditioning didn't make to the back seat. I got him to crank the A/C, so the prisoner who came after me owes me thanks.

    He also warned me to watch for needles and such in the seats, so at least one law enforcement agency cares not enough to secure their prisoner seating area.

  • edcoast||

    The CNN anchor this morning said something to the effect of "Well, we especially need to give police the benefit of the doubt." Fortunately the lawyer he was interviewing called his ass on it "No, they don't get any more benefit of the doubt than anyone else."

  • R C Dean||

    Trying to figure out which incredibly unlikely scenario occurred, I kind of like this one:

    Idiot cops miss gun first time. Stupid guy takes it out while in back of car, fails to hide it worth a damn.

    Idiot cops search him again, and while putting him back in car (cuffed), find the gun loose in the car.

    Stupid guy is now handcuffed in back of car. Pissed-off idiot cop has gun in hand, and is talking smack and pointing at stupid guy. Gun discharges.

    Bad attempt at coverup begins.

  • ||

    I like it - except perhaps stupid guy attempts to throw gun out of car not realizing that windows are rolled up. Gun strikes rolled up window and discharges into temple.

  • R C Dean||

    Even trying to throw a gun out of a car windo, much less getting it to the window, with your hands handcuffed behind your back would be a neat trick.

  • ||

    That's retarded. Dropped/thrown guns do not fire, and all modern guns have extensive safety hardware to make sure they do not fire when dropped/thrown. In fact, it is more dangerous to fumble for a dropped gun than to let it hit the ground, because while fumbling you could accidentally hit the trigger.

    You need to learn more about guns.

  • ||

    Due to the deceased's extensive yoga practice he was able to throw the gun towards the window with his fingertips while handcuffed.

    And perhaps it discharged because it bounced up and the trigger caught on the molded clothes hanger at the top of the window?

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    Indeed, and then they don't find powder burns anywhere on the victim, the cover-up's fucked.

    It has a ring of probability to it and a "oh fuck fuck fuck" police incompetency which sounds about right.

    and its arkansas...

  • The Late P Brooks||

    then they don't find powder burns anywhere on the victim

    They ascribe it to the ambulance/ emergency room people's valiant yet ultimately unsuccessful attempts to save him.

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