For the past several weeks, the media has been buzzing with the question of whether it's possible (or probable) that 21-year-old Chavis Carter committed suicide while handcuffed in the backseat of a Jonesboro, AR, police cruiser. Now, it seems that the Craighead County Coroner's Office has made its decision — this was suicide. Ballistics tests and and an FBI investigation are forthcoming, and the released dashcam footage is frustratingly inconclusive, though the chief of police Michael Yates says the footage and witness testimonies "tend to support" the police claims that Carter shot himself. One police officer expresses confusion as to where Carter got the gun after he has apparently shot himself, adding credence to the police's story.
The coroner,whose report was released to the press after a Freedom of Information Act request, concluded that Carter's cause of death:
Perforating gunshot wound of head, going through the right temporal scalp and skull, right and left frontal temporal brain, exiting left temporal skull and scalp. Perforating gunshot wound of head, going through the right temporal scalp and skull, right and left frontal temporal brain, exiting left temporal skull and scalp.
Path: Primarily right to left, with small backward and downward deviation.
Since the July 29 incident, Jonesboro police have "reenacted" how Carter, or other people of varying heights and builds, could have shot themselves in the head while cuffed. Still, there's a lingering racial paranoia here, considering that Carter was black and the officers were white, and that just happens when a black male dies in police custody. Carter's mother continues to say that her son was left handed, making his supposed suicide by gunshot to the right temple even more unlikely.
Even if the police story checks out, it's still frustrating that Carter ended up being arrested for "suspicious driving" and then detained for giving police a fake name in order to disguise the notion that he had slipped away from a Mississippi drug deferment program…for one count of selling marijuana. Carter may not have been pure as the driven snow, he may even have stolen the gun that killed him, since it was reported as such a month before, but even so, he didn't need to be in the back of that car at all. It's hard not to wistfully think that with no drug war, the cops would always have bigger criminals to fry.
And, it's hard to ignore a few of the other questions on the coroner's report, namely whether or not Carter had gunshot residue on his hands (still unresolved), and the simple fact that "the manner of death is based on both autopsy findings and the investigative conclusions of the Jonesboro Police Department." It's unsettling when police departments investigate themselves. But even if this is no dramatic cover-up, it's surely some serious negligence. Jonesboro police should seriously reconsider bringing back the officers responsible for searching Carter at least.