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Shooting death of handcuffed man in patrol car ruled a suicide

A man's death from a gunshot wound to the head while his hands were handcuffed behind him in an Arkansas police patrol car has been ruled a suicide, The Associated Press reported on Monday. 

The AP said the state crime lab report said 21-year-old Chavis Carter shot himself in the right temple of his head with a gun he had hidden. The report was based on autopsy findings and an investigation by the Jonesboro, Ark., Police Department. 

Carter's death has prompted skepticism about the police version of events. His father, Charles Douglas, told theGrio that he does not believe that his son's death was a suicide.

"I don’t believe he committed suicide. Until we get justice, we’re not going to get peace. He’s not resting in peace; this won’t be over until he is."

Forensic expert calls suicide 'possible,' 'very unlikely'

Dr. Michael Baden, a former chief medical examiner for the City of New York and expert witness during the O.J. Simpson trial, told theGrio that if the gun used to kill Carter was positioned as it was in the police re-enactment video, there's a slight possibility Carter could have gotten enough leverage to shoot himself.

"It would be possible, I think, but it’s still very unlikely that that would happen," he said. 

According to the police video, Carter was hunched over and reached behind his back for the gun and fired, causing the bullet to hit the right side of his head.

Carter and two friends were riding in a truck in Jonesboro on the night of July 28 when they were pulled over. Police said they received reports a of truck matching the description of the vehicle driving up and the down the street with its lights turned off.

During a search of the trio and the vehicle, police found marijuana plastic baggies and a set of scales. After running a check on his name, police learned Carter had a warrant for his arrest in Mississippi for marijuana possession.

He was handcuffed after a second search and placed in the back of the squad car while the officers conducted another search of the truck. Shortly thereafter the officers involved said they heard a gunshot and discovered that Carter had shot himself in the head.

Officers found Carter in the back seat slumped over and covered in blood. The other two riders were allowed to go.

Suspicion over the official account has continued to grow in the city's African-American community.

Police video from the night of the incident provided few answers, as it did not show the shooting. 

Prior to the video's release, police released a video reconstruction meant to show how Carter could have shot himself with his hands restrained behind his back. 

"We just wanted to get a good perspective on how it could be done and the ease with which it could be done,” said Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates.

Yates originally called the shooting "bizarre" and said that the officers' version of events defied logic. But he later said the scenario was "very possible."

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One of the officers reported discovering a small-caliber handgun in the spot where Carter died. The gun was not found during the two previous instances Carter was searched. 

Baden, the former New York City medical examiner, said the officers bear some culpability in the incident no matter what.

"If he dies in their custody they’re responsible," he said. "At the least, we’re talking about very sloppy police work — not finding a gun that he could have used to shoot one of the officers. And it’s indicative of poor training of the officers."

Yates has come under scrutiny for his department's lack of diversity, with only three out of 145 officers being African-American.

Carter family attorney Benjamin Irwin told the AP he and the family are reviewing the report and will release a statement.



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