Outrage in U.S. as Black Man Shot in Head While Handcuffed in Police Car
Outrage in US as black man is shot in head while handcuffed in police car
The death of a young black man who was shot in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car has caused uproar among the black community in Arkansas, a US state with deep racial fault-lines.
By Mark Hughes, New York; 08 Aug 2012 - The Telegraph
Hundreds of people have taken to the streets to protest an official explanation of suicide in the death of Chavis Carter, 21, in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Mr Carter was pulled over by police late last month and searched twice by officers who discovered a small $10 bag of marijuana. He was also wanted for skipping probation on another drugs charge.
Mr Carter had his hands cuffed behind his back and put into a police car.
Michael Yates, the police chief, has conceded that a "very unusual" chain of events led up to the later discovery of Mr Carter [who] was found slumped in the back of the police car with a bullet wound in his head.
He later died in hospital.
"Suspect shot himself in the head with a gun he had concealed on his person," the police report said.
Mr Carter's family and friends cried foul, questioning how could he shoot himself in the head with his hands behind his back.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) released a statement calling for an "unbiased investigation" and added: "The public relies upon police to serve and protect all citizens, no matter their race or ethnicity."Mr Yates admitted that the case was "definitely bizarre and defies logic at first glance."
But Mr Carter's mother Teresa has another explanation. "I think they killed him," she told a local television station. "I mean, my son was not suicidal."
Mrs Carter pointed to two pieces of evidence she believes indicate her son did not shoot himself. She says the bullet hole was in her son's right temple. But he was left handed, making it unlikely he would have used his right hand to pull the trigger.
She also says that her son had phoned his girlfriend shortly after being pulled over, but before being handcuffed, and told her that he would call her later from jail – hardly indicative of a man who intended to take his own life.
There are two other possibilities; that Mr Carter shot himself by accident while perhaps trying to hide the weapon. Or that he was shot by a third party – something police say there is no evidence of, but have not ruled out entirely.
The two Jonesboro police officers, both of whom are white, are currently on administrative duties pending the outcome of an investigation being conducted by the FBI and the police department.
If Mr Carter is found to have killed himself, the officers will have to explain how they searched him twice yet failed to find a weapon before putting him into the police car.
Sergeant Lyle Waterworth of the Jonesboro Police Department said: "Any given officer has missed something on a search, be it drugs, knife, razor blades, this instance it happened to be a gun"
Mr Yates addressed Mrs Carter's allegations that her son was shot by police in a conversation with the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Yates said: "I do not pretend to understand a mother's grief and I cannot understand but there is no indication and no factual basis for that as what transpired."
The police have refused to release footage from a camera mounted on the dashboard of the patrol car, but Mr Yates said it corroborated the statements of the officers.
The police report states that the white pickup truck in which Mr Carter was a passenger, was pulled over shortly before 10pm on July 29 after being spotted driving with its lights off.
After noting a strong smell of marijuana Mr Carter and his two friends, who were both white, were patted down.
Officers discovered marijuana on Mr Carter and later discovered he was using a false name and had an outstanding warrant against him.
He was searched again, handcuffed and put into the back of the car.
Moments later the officers heard a "loud thump with a metallic sound". When they checked the car they said Mr Carter was "slumped forward with his head in his lap" and covered in blood.
The issue spilled on to the streets on Monday when more than 300 people attended a vigil in his memory. Some carried signs which read: "Justice for Chavis. What really happened?"
Pastor Adrian Rodgers who helped organize the vigil said: "There are certainly some racial concerns that a black man died after being handcuffed and put in a police car by two white officers; certainly there are some racial undertones to this.
"There are as many opinions about this as there are people in the city, but we all want the truth. If there were some illegal actions on the side of the officers then we want them held accountable. However if it was a tragic accident we do not want them to suffer because they were the ones on the scene."
Mr Yates said that suggestions that Mr Carter's race played any part in the incident was not helpful. He said: "I think it is very reckless to make those types of comments without knowing what the facts will bear."