Questions over handcuffed man's 'suicide'

2012-08-22 10:03
Teresa Carter, left, and Anne Carter Winters, mother and grandmother of Chavis Carter, comfort each other during a prayer vigil. (The Commercial Appeal, Stan Carroll/ AP)

Teresa Carter, left, and Anne Carter Winters, mother and grandmother of Chavis Carter, comfort each other during a prayer vigil. (The Commercial Appeal, Stan Carroll/ AP)

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Memphis — The family of a young US man hasn't accepted the official explanation for his death: He was on methamphetamine when he fatally shot himself while seated, his hands cuffed behind him, in a police car.

The family portrays the 21-year-old Chavis Carter as a bright young man who aspired to be a veterinarian. As questions swirl, his family has demanded answers from authorities.

"If he did it, I want to know how it happened," his grandmother, Anne Winters Carter, said in an interview. "And if he didn't do it, then we want justice."

The FBI has said it's monitoring the case.

Police in Jonesboro, Arkansas, say officers searched Carter twice during a traffic stop but didn't find a gun before they noticed him slumped over and bleeding in the car on 28 July.

Some of the family's supporters marched through town on Tuesday, a day after a candlelight vigil was held for Carter in Memphis and police released an autopsy report that called his death a suicide.


The ruling confounded his family. They note that Carter was left-handed but was shot in his right temple.

"If he's double-locked and ... he's shot in his right temple, but he is left-handed, that's the part I don't understand," Winters Carter said.

Police have released a video showing how a man could put a gun to his temple while his hands were cuffed behind his back. They shared footage recorded by dashboard cameras the night of the shooting, but the video doesn't show the moment they say Carter shot himself.

"There's no other explanation to this ... other than that he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, and that's what we call a suicide," said Stephen Erickson, a medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.

Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis-based lawyer representing Carter's family, has asked for the full dashboard video and audio from the night of the shooting to be released before final conclusions are drawn.

Toxicology tests showed Carter's blood tested positive for at least trace amounts of the anti-anxiety medication diazepam and the painkiller oxycodone in addition to a larger amount of methamphetamine. His urine test returned a positive result for marijuana.

Drug surprise

Erickson said Carter was under the intoxicating effects of meth at the time of his death.

"The methamphetamine is going to play a large role in his mental status," Erickson said, adding that he couldn't tell how it affected his behaviour because people react differently.

Winters Carter said she was surprised and didn't know of any drug problems.

"When he got to Jonesboro, I can't really say," she said. "But with me, no. And if he did, I didn't see it."

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