As the unnerving riddle of just how a left-handed man, both his hands double-handcuffed behind his back while cramped in the back seat of a tight-fisted police cruiser, could even possibly maneuver free enough to hoist a .380-caliber Cobra semiautomatic pistol and fire directly into the right temple yet perplexes, the Rev. Jesse Jackson has joined the chorus of those now clamoring for greater explanation.
“This is what we call ‘Houdini justice,’ Jackson told an overflow crowd on hand to memorialize the life and times of 21-year-old Chavis Carter while also vowing to demand and seek justice for his senseless slaying. In citing the 1983 Civil Right Act as reasonable grounds for applicable intervention, Jackson is now calling on the FBI and the Department of Justice to assume the reins in safeguarding the investigation.
In a case police have officially stamped as a “suicide,” an autopsy has now determined Carter died of a single, self-inflicted gunshot blast to the head on the night of July 28, after being taken into custody on an outstanding warrant charge and possession of a $10 baggie of marijuana.
Beyond those relatively minor details, the baffling question of what truly transpired in the aftermath of his apprehension has cast both aspersions and national attention upon the Jonesboro, Ark. Police Department, the central theme of which revolve around the burning question of just how officers could have failed to uncover the weapon Carter is alleged to have been shielding even though they readily admit searching him on at least two separate occasions.
As all the many questions and suspicions raised by those from Carter’s nearby hometown of Mississippi mount, some are further outraged over what they now describe as an active campaign to further besmirch the character of a now defenseless victim.
Mere hours after both a video re-enactment creation of the crime scene and the release of autopsy findings by cops only seemed to raise greater skepticisms, police leaked cell phone footage showing Carter smoking what appears to be marijuana with two young boys.
Officers have also proven steadfast in letting it be known toxicology results found small traces of methamphetamines and other drugs in Carter’s blood stream. They also allege that text messages retrieved from his phone show he had stolen the gun in question and was intent on delivering it to a man now jailed on unrelated aggravated burglary charges. Investigators add that same man now insists Carter was part of an earlier drug deal involving over 100 grams of marijuana.
During his memorial, family friend Kia Granberry held high a sign which read: “People brought to Jesus a woman who may have had a troubled past and when they asked Jesus what to do to the woman, he said, ‘Cast the first stone.’ So I want to remind you when people judge you or people say what they want to say about your son and your brother and your cousin, you remind them to cast the first stone.”
“I’m calling for justice, I’m not calling for any kind of personality,” said Jackson. “All we want is to make sure justice is served.”
Among the issues perplexing—not to mention agitating— Jackson and Carter family members most are reports that at least three minutes of recorded police dash cam footage of the incident is now said to be missing.
“President Nixon had a gap in his tape,” said Jackson. “It's not unusual for people who are trying to cover up to have convenient gaps in their tapes. Really it's a gap in the truth. He was in police custody and he died in police custody. We know the explanation is unacceptable because it is a Houdini explanation."
Attorneys for the family are also stunned that no gun residue tests were performed on Carter’s hands in the wake of the shooting.
Even the crimes lab's chief criminalist, Lisa Channell, admitted to the Associated Press such testing can indicate whether a person was even in the general vicinity of a firearm when the trigger is pulled.
"We have been asking for answers from the Jonesboro Police Department as to why Chavis Carter is dead," said family attorney Benjamin Irwin of the Cochran Firm, the same mega branch law offices that represented O.J. Simpson. “We know Chavis died of a gunshot wound to the head… what the Carter family deserves to know is why.”
“It is deeply disturbing to learn that in a case surrounded by so much mystery that a gun residue test was not performed on Chavis,” Irwin added. “Anyone searching hard for the truth would have performed those tests on Chavis and the arresting officers.”
Meanwhile, the JPD has persisted in leaking information in defense of their findings and actions, including statements in which officers claim Carter not only called his girlfriend from the back seat of the police vehicle, but he also admitted to her he had a gun and was afraid.
“He told her that he loved her and that he had a gun on him and he was scared,” reads an official police statement that, nonetheless, neglects to identify the woman.
“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,” added Stephen Erickson, the medical examiner who conducted the actual autopsy.
Again, Irwin has major reservations. In terming investigators depictions of all the evidence thus far collected as “misleading,” the veteran, wrongful death attorney maintains he too has spoken with Carter’s girlfriend and the woman insists he in no way sounded suicidal during their last, back seat conversation.
Earlier reports have identified the two officers involved as Keith Baggett and Ron Marsh, both of whom remain on leave. The two white teens that were with Carter at the time of his arrest were both released without harm, arrest or incident.
“I think they killed him,” Teresa Carter told Memphis-based TV station WREG of her son. “My son was not suicidal.”
Added longtime family friend Bianca Tipton: “He used to always say, ‘The world gonna know my name.’ Now the world do know his name.”
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.