There’s a potential firestorm brewing in the small town of Jonesboro, Arkansas after handcuffed 21-year-old Chavis Carter was shot to death in the backseat of a police car. The police say it was a suicide, but the national media has poured attention on the case — and Carter’s family, friends and some celebrities have cast doubts on the official account.
The story begins on July 29 around 10 pm when Jonesboro police stopped a pick-up truck that was driving with no lights. Carter and two other men in the car were searched and questioned. Carter had possession of a small amount of marijuana. He then gave police a fake name, telling them he was Laryan Bowman, but the ID in his wallet identified him as Chavis Carter.
When police ran his information through the computer, they found Carter had an outstanding warrant on a marijuana charge. Carter was arrested, searched, and placed in the cruiser with his hands double-handcuffed behind his back. After police spoke with the other two men in the pick-up truck, they noted a burning odor and found Carter was slumped and bloody in the backseat. He had been shot once in the head with a .380 semi-automatic handgun. The police maintain that they somehow missed the concealed weapon when they searched Carter and that he managed to retreive the gun, point it at his head — despite the handcuffs — and pull the trigger.
The two police officers — Keith Baggett and Ron Marsh — who detained Carter have been placed on paid administrative leave, pending results of an investigation into the incident. But Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates told one newspaper that footage from the dashboard camera of the policecar and unspecified witness accounts “tend to support” the police officers’ story.
Pundits across the US have pilloried the Jonesboro police for the suspicious death, comparing it to the killing of Trayvon Martin. Rapper Talib Kweli took to Twitter to speak out: ‘How do you shoot yourself in the head with your hands handcuffed behind your back? Police are out of control,’ he wrote.
Chavis Carter’s mother Teresa Carter remains unconvinced: “I can’t get it together. I still can’t put the story together it just don’t add up,” she said. Carter complained that police have not been forthcoming with her, so she’s hired the Cochran Law Firm to “help me get some answers and find out what happened to my son.” A civil lawsuit might be in the offing as well.
A week after Carter’s death, a vigil at a Jonesboro church drew hundreds of people from across the area. Local TV station KREG reported that the crowd made custom t-shirts and signs calling for police accountablity and answers to the many questions surrounding the case such as: how did the body search find a bag of pot on Carter’s person but miss a handgun? Perhaps the FBI’s investigation into the case will provide closure for the people of Jonesboro — or it might further fan the flames of unrest currently on display.