By Jeannie Nuss
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A man whose hands were cuffed behind him in the back seat of an Arkansas patrol car shot himself in the right temple with a handgun he apparently concealed from arresting officers, according to an autopsy report released Monday that listed the death as a suicide.
The state crime lab report, signed by three medical examiners, said the muzzle of a gun was placed against Chavis Carter's head when it was fired. Jonesboro police released the report to The Associated Press and other news organizations under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The report said the manner of death was ruled a suicide based on autopsy findings and investigative conclusions from the Jonesboro police department, which has faced questions from Carter's family and community members about the circumstances surrounding the July 28 shooting.
"He was cuffed and placed into a police car, where apparently he produced a weapon, and despite being handcuffed, shot himself in the head," the report said. Chief Medical Examiner Charles P. Kokes did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Police have said officers frisked Carter, 21, twice after a traffic stop without finding a gun before he was fatally shot, but the department's internal investigation continues. The FBI also is monitoring the case and the local branch of the NAACP has called for a thorough investigation into the death of Carter, who was black. Two other men who were in a truck with him during the stop and the two officers on the scene are white, according to police.
The autopsy report comes days after police released dashboard camera video recorded the night Carter was shot in Jonesboro, about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock. Part of the video showed Carter being patted down and ended before officers found Carter slumped over and bleeding in the back of a patrol car as was described in a police report. Police later released additional video they said was recorded after Carter was found.
Neither included the moment they say Carter shot himself, and the footage did little to resolve questions about how the shooting could have happened.
Carter's death came after police stopped a truck in which he was riding. The driver and another passenger eventually were allowed to go, but police said Carter had an outstanding arrest warrant. Court records show it had to do with a drug charge out of Mississippi's DeSoto County.
Carter was searched twice and police said they found a small amount of marijuana, but no gun. After the first search, an officer put Carter into a patrol car without handcuffing him. He was later searched again, handcuffed and returned to the same car.
"It's obvious they did miss the weapon on the first search. It is likely, since he was placed into the car un-handcuffed the first time, that he had an opportunity to stash the weapon in the car," Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates said last week. "The second search, which was more thorough and inclusive, did not disclose the weapon either."
Officers a short time later saw Carter slumped over in the backseat and covered in blood, according to the police report, which concluded he had managed to conceal a handgun with which he shot himself. He later died at a hospital.
As part of their investigation, the Jonesboro Police Department also released a video reconstruction of the shooting showing how a man could shoot himself in the head with his hands cuffed behind him.
In producing the video, the agency said it used the same type of handcuffs used on Carter and the same model of handgun found with Carter after he died, a .380-caliber Cobra semi-automatic. An officer of similar height and weight as Carter sat in the back of a cruiser, leaned over and was able to lift the weapon to his head and reach the trigger.
The autopsy report released Monday said Carter was about 5 feet 8 inches and that his body weighed 150 pounds.
Cellphone videos, other phone records, search warrant returns and investigative portions of the incident report had not been released Monday, police spokesman Sgt. Lyle Waterworth said.
"As the investigation continues and as prudent further information will be released," Waterworth said in an email. "Any other questions will be answered upon completion of investigation."
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Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis, Tenn., lawyer representing Carter's family, said they're reviewing the autopsy report and plan to release a statement. Supporters of the family are expected to gather Monday in Memphis near the National Civil Rights Museum.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press