Calls for the FBI to completely take the reins in overseeing the death investigation of Chavis Carter grew by leaps and bounds late Tuesday. The Jonesboro police department released a video recreation of what authorities now contend occurred the night he died, even as they testily admit their probe remains far from conclusive.
The 21-year-old Carter died of what police now insist was a self-inflicted gunshot blast to the head on the night of July 28, after being taken into custody on an outstanding warrant charge and having his hands “double-cuffed” behind his back by officers Keith Baggett and Ron Marsh following a routine traffic stop.
Investigators add officers also uncovered a $10 baggie of marijuana hidden in his pocket during a pair of searches for weapons or contraband before placing him in the back seat of a police cruiser. The two white teens he was traveling with at the time of the stop were both released without harm or incident and the arresting officers have since been placed on paid administrative leave.
“How do you shoot yourself in the head with your hands handcuffed behind your back?” rap star Talib Kweli defiantly wrote on a “Justice for Chavis Carter” Facebook page which now totals more than 3,000 followers and on his Twitter feed. “Police are out of control.”
Try as the JPD might to quell all the growing voices of dissension in Carter’s nearby hometown of Mississippi, that vibe continues to resonate, particularly after Tuesday’s developments and a recent interview given by police chief Michael Yates.
Earlier this week, Yates took to the CNN News airwaves where he addressed the seemingly supreme implausibility of someone being able to wiggle their restrained hands free in the backseat of a cramped police vehicle and raise their hands high enough to squarely fire a revolver into the base of their skull.
“It’s very possible,” said Yates, severely backtracking on the stance he initially took when he pronounced the incident “bizarre” and added it “defies logic at first glance.”
“The average person that’s never been in handcuffs, that’s never been around inmates and people in custody would react exactly the same way that you just did, about how can that be possible,” Yates added in the CNN interview. “Well, the fact of it is… it’s quite easy.”
In the video recreation made public on Tuesday, Yates and the department described the purpose of the video as a means to investigate the “possibility that an individual, hand-cuffed behind his back, may or may not have the ability to use a concealed firearm in a manner that would give rise to his or her death.”
An officer, purported to be roughly Carter’s size, is illustrated wriggling his handcuffed hands from behind his back and raising a toy pistol to his head. “The circumstances displayed are not intended to illustrate the only means by which an individual could injure themselves but merely to determine the feasibility of these actions," the video blares. "The investigation is active and awaits forensic and other investigative material that will be used to complete a full inquiry into this matter.”
The reckoning of that majestical moment can’t come soon enough for the Carter family and the many community residents long suspect of what they deem as Yates’ checkered history in dealing with minorities.
In 2004, Yates, more or less, was forced to step down as chief of the Americus, Ga. police department after local NAACP officials moved to oust him amid allegations he conducted an illegal background check on then organization vice-president Craig Walker, a long-vocal and outspoken critic of Yates and the department over their treatment of minority citizens.
Four years later in 2008 on the night of Barack Obama’s historic win and in an incident now infamously known as the “Obama Riot,” Yates and his department’s tactics again came under heavy criticism this time in Jonesboro after he encountered a group of college students gathered outside an apartment complex apparently celebrating the president’s ascension.
Within minutes, the entire city patrol had been dispatched to the scene, including SWAT units, county sheriffs, state police, Arkansas State University campus police and all available canine units. By the time all had cleared, eight young black males had been arrested, seven of them on the felony charge of inciting a riot and the other on a second-degree felony charge of battery on an officer.
“We were all having fun,” Alexandra Ingram, then a senior at ASU, told the Arkansas Times of the ordeal. “We were all dancing, hugging, taking pictures. It was nothing of a violent attitude toward anyone. We were hugging people we didn't even know. We were just celebrating.”
Fun-loving is precisely the same way relatives of Carter insist he will be best remembered. From day one, Teresa Carter has insisted her son simply loved life far too much to even indulge in thoughts of ending his own. She points out on the night in question he called his girlfriend after the initial stop and told her he would be phoning her later from jail. She adds that her son was shot in the right temple, something she finds equally odd given he was left handed.
'If you could find a dime bag of marijuana on a person, you could find a .380,'” reasoned Cassie Carter, the victim’s great aunt.
More recently, theYates-led force has also been repeatedly accused of ignoring all calls to increase diversity within the ranks. According to recent Census data, Jonesboro experienced a 21.2 percent population increase between 2000 and 2010, with blacks accounting for nearly one-fifth of the growth spurt.
And yet, according to Dr. George Grant, co-chair of the city’s Diversity Coalition Committee, blacks still compose less than two percent (three out of 149 officers) of the city’s police force. “Our position was that this was not satisfactory,” Grant expounded to local media. “That is not representative of the diversity in the community.”
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.