US family asks how handcuffed man shot himself

AP, MEMPHIS, Tennessee

Thu, Aug 23, 2012 - Page 7

The family of a young black US man has not accepted the official explanation for his death: that he was on methamphetamine when he fatally shot himself while seated, his hands cuffed behind him, in a police car.

The family portrays the 21-year-old Chavis Carter as a bright young man who aspired to be a veterinarian. As questions swirl, his family has demanded answers from authorities.

“If he did it, I want to know how it happened,” his grandmother, Anne Winters Carter, said in an interview. “And if he didn’t do it, then we want justice.”

The FBI has said it is monitoring the case. Police in Jonesboro, Arkansas, say officers searched Carter twice during a traffic stop, but did not find a gun before they noticed him slumped over and bleeding in the car on July 28. The two officers who stopped the truck he was in were white.

Some of the family’s supporters marched through town on Tuesday, a day after a candlelight vigil was held for Carter in Memphis and police released an autopsy report that called his death a suicide.

The ruling confounded his family. They say that Carter was left-handed, but was shot in his right temple.

“If he’s double-locked and ... he’s shot in his right temple, but he is left-handed, that’s the part I don’t understand,” Winters Carter said.

Police have released a video showing how a man could put a gun to his temple while his hands were cuffed behind his back. They shared footage recorded by dashboard cameras the night of the shooting, but the video does not show the moment they say Carter shot himself.

“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,” said Stephen Erickson, a medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.

Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis-based lawyer representing Carter’s family, has asked for the full dashboard video and audio from the night of the shooting to be released before final conclusions are drawn.

Toxicology tests showed Carter’s blood tested positive for at least trace amounts of the anti-anxiety medication diazepam and the painkiller oxycodone, in addition to a larger amount of methamphetamine. His urine test returned a positive result for marijuana.

Erickson said Carter was under the intoxicating effects of methamphetamine at the time of his death.

Winters Carter said she was surprised and did not know of any drug problems.

“When he got to Jonesboro, I can’t really say,” she said. “But with me, no. And if he did, I didn’t see it.”