Can Police Claim Suicide If Suspect Was Handcuffed?

Chavis Carter died while in police custody Saturday night in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Posted: 08/02/2012 11:08 AM EDT
Chavis Carter

An Arkansas mother cannot understand how her son managed to shoot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a squad car.

“I think they killed him,” Teresa Carter told WREG-TV, referring to officers Ron Marsh and Keith Baggett, who detained 21-year-old Chavis Chacobie Carter Saturday night.

According to the police report, here's what happened:

—Jonesboro police officer Keith Baggett stopped a “suspicious white truck.”

—Carter was a passenger in the vehicle with two white males.

—When asked for ID, Carter said he didn't have any and gave a fake name. He later gave his real name and officers learned of an outstanding warrant in Mississippi.

—During a search of the car, scales smelling of marijuana and a baggie with a "white powdery granular substance" were found near Carter's seat.

—The two white men were handcuffed and Carter was "detained" in the back seat of a police car.

—Carter was searched twice, once when the police approached the vehicle when he was initially detained and again after they confirmed his outstanding warrant.

—Carter was then handcuffed with his hands at his back and placed in the back of Marsh's police car.

—Baggett heard a "loud thump with metallic sound" and thought it was a car driving over a piece of metal on the road.

—The white driver and white passenger were then allowed to leave after being advised about their rights.

—Marsh and Baggett go back to their respective cars. Marsh then went to Baggett's car and said Carter had shot himself in the head.

—The police report calls his death a suicide.

What isn't in the police report is how someone who was handcuffed with his hands behind his back and searched twice was able to shoot himself. 

“I can’t see how,” this could happen, said Carter's mother. “My son wasn’t suicidal.”

“His hands were still cuffed behind his back,” according to Baggett’s narrative. He noted that Marsh had attempted to remove the handcuffs from Carter but was unable to do so “because of the positioning of Carter’s body.”

Marsh also found a small-caliber handgun after the shooting. While the police report didn't say where the gun was found or to whom it belonged, Sgt. Lyle Waterworth of Jonesboro Police Department told WREG-TV that police officers have been known to miss weapons or other items during a search.

“This instance, it happened to be a gun,” said Waterworth.

The Department’s Chief Michael Yates told BET.com that there are no new updates and that the case is under investigation.

Both officers have been placed on administrative leave.

“I just want to know what really happened,” said Teresa Carter. “That’s all I want to know.”

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