Chavis Carter: Police murder or suicide?

W.A.T.E.R. 17 Special to the AmNews | 8/30/2012, 3:14 p.m.

Last month's suspicious shooting death of a Black man in the back seat of a Jonesboro, Ark., police car--after he was searched twice and handcuffed behind his back--has many skeptical observers demanding that a human-rights investigation be conducted.

Chavis Chacobie Carter's death was ruled a suicide by the local medical examiner's office.

"I think they killed him. My son was not suicidal," says the 21-year-old's distraught mother, Teresa Carter. "I just want to know ... what really happened?"

Carter's relatives question the account put forth by the Jonesboro Police Department [JPD] and wonder why a gunpowder residue test was not administered on him or the two arresting cops.

"At the time of discharge, the muzzle of the gun was placed against the right temporal scalp," the Arkansas State Crime Lab's medical examiner, Stephan Erickson, determined in the document. "The manner of death is based on both autopsy findings and the investigative conclusions of the JPD."

He outlined how such wounds could be imposed externally or self-inflicted.

"Anatomically, you can't tell the two apart," Ericson explains. "If someone had very good control of you and put a gun to your head in a threatening manner, you are under their control. The manner of death is certainly based on the conclusions of the investigators taken at face value."

Reportedly, on the night of July 28, local law-enforcement responded to a 911 call of a truck with Missouri license plates being driven with headlights off. Upon finding the vehicle, they stopped and questioned three male occupants. Carter called his girlfriend while being pulled over, saying he was scared and he'd contact her once able to.

Back-seat passenger Carter carried no I.D., initially telling police he was Larayan Bowman, but eventually fessed up, admitting his real name. After checking personal and vehicle documentation, questioning and a warrant check, the officers told Carter's two Caucasian companions they discovered marijuana baggies on him and that he had an arrest warrant. They placed Carter in the back seat of their patrol car and the two white men drove off.

The cops said they heard a loud thump, "like we ran over a piece of metal on the roadway." Upon review, Carter had an extra hole in his head and he lay bleeding profusely.

"How did he shoot himself in his right temple--and he [was] left-handed--in handcuffs?" Carter's friend Bianca Tipton skeptically questioned.

"They were able to find a small bag, but not a gun?"

Last Friday, JPD released video footage from the dashboard-mounted camera of the car that responded, but, conveniently, a few minutes were omitted.

"You're both lucky, you came this close to going to jail," one cop tells the two. "He's going to jail, because he's got something out of Mississippi that had nothing to do with you all."

Carter's family question whether it's physically possible for him to have his hands cuffed behind his back, retrieve the concealed .380 caliber Cobra which was said to have been used, and lift his arm high enough to shoot himself in the head. Also, the .380 had been reported stolen in Jonesboro in July, not Carter's hometown.