The coroners’ report is back and they have agreed with the incredible assertion of the Jonesboro Police Dept., that 21-year-old Chavis Carter shot himself to death while handcuffed in the back of a police car in the Arkansas town.
The report by pathologists in Little Rock, Ark., was released July 20 at Final Call presstime and backs up the official account. The seven pages of information describe the condition of the body, the bullet wound and other details, and says it was based also on information from the police department.
But while the report lists details and reaches conclusions, there are still some things missing as noted by Memphis attorney Benjamin Irwin, who represents the deceased young man’s family. In an interview on CNN, the attorney said it was important to note that the report essentially offers a medical conclusion, which includes saying the gun was next to the young man’s head and a gun caused the death. But, he continued, the report doesn’t reach a conclusion about who fired the weapon that killed Chavis. It also is not known whether Chavis was tested for gun residue or if officers were tested for gun residue and when, Attorney Irvin added.
“We tried to duplicate it (the reputed suicide) and it was a difficult feat at best,” said Attorney Irvin. He wasn’t impressed by a Jonesboro Police Dept. video produced to show how someone in handcuffs could shoot himself in the head. We don’t know who the person in the videotape is, whether the person was double-jointed and the only thing that matters is what Chavis would have been able to do that night, said the lawyer.
From his perspective the Jonesboro police called the death a suicide from the beginning and started with a conclusion, instead of starting with an investigation and ascertaining the facts. Given that police officers say they searched Chavis twice and handcuffed him, incompetence is clear and the question is where does the situation go from here? observed Attorney Irvin. Too many conclusions have been released when all of the facts have not been released, he added.
There are some facts in this case: A young Black man was stopped with two White males the night of July 28 and the two Caucasians were let go and the young Black male is dead. The encounter was based on a simple traffic stop. A gun fired the fatal shot that took Chavis’ life. Chavis was in police custody. He was facing minor charges for drug possession. Police say they searched him twice and found no weapon. Dash cam video shared by police show a pat down and Chavis being led off camera and questioned.
It is also a fact that historically in the South, Blacks have died while in police custody or after authorities said they were released. During the civil rights movement the collusion of the White power structure and disregard Black rights and Black lives led to federal intervention. The infamous killing of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, Miss., in Neshoba County, Miss., June 21, 1964 is one of many examples. The group was stopped by police who alerted the Ku Klux Klan and set the stage for their killing. Until the federal government got involved all the authorities sang the same song, no one knew what happened to the three young men. A sheriff was among those actually tried for the murders, though he was acquitted.
The “Mississippi Burning” case, dramatized by the movie, was not the only such incident in the South and outside intervention was the only way to seek any semblance of justice.
Is America’s ugly history repeating itself?
The coroners don’t provide answers to how a left-handed person shoots himself on the right side of his head and, of course, don’t say where the gun came from nor how police missed a weapon in two searches. This case isn’t over and while authorities can try to dismiss it and the family attorney wisely walks a thin line without placing blame while calling for an investigation, many believe Chavis Carter was murdered. So while authorities may be content with their findings, Black America is not. There are too many unanswered questions and too much history for us to believe the books should be closed on this case.