Chavis Carter: Suicide While Handcuffed

Chavis Carter Suicide

Police say twenty-one-year-old Chavis Carter shot himself in the head. A suicide. And, under normal circumstances, a story such as this one wouldn’t make national headlines. However, Carter’s death is big news because the young man took his own life in the back seat of a Jonesboro, Arkansas police patrol car…while handcuffed with his hands behind his back.

To further confuse the issue, Carter was left-handed, yet the bullet wound was on the right temporal area of the scalp. And, the arresting officers searched Carter for weapons before placing him the car, unrestrained (no handcuffs). Then, minutes later, after learning that Carter was wanted for a drug crime in another jurisdiction, they had him step outside where they handcuffed him with his hands behind his back, and searched him again.

Carter’s family says no way he killed himself. He was a happy person. No troubles. A good guy.

Additionally, many citizens around the country are using the “M” word, saying the police murdered Carter in cold blood, that Carter could not have shot himself while his hands were restrained behind his back.

But an autopsy report released yesterday confirms the police statement, that Carter did indeed pull the trigger while holding a .380 pistol to his head. The report also revealed the presence of drugs in Carter’s system—marijuana, Oxycodone, methamphetamine, and Diazapam.

The saga began when police stopped a pickup truck in which Carter was a passenger. The driver and other passenger were released and sent on their way. Carter was held due to the outstanding warrant.


There are many questions floating around the internet about this incident. There have been protests outside the Jonesboro police department. And some have called for the police chief’s resignation. All this before the autopsy report was released. Now, since the report is complete and made public, many are saying the medical examiners are in cahoots with the police to cover up a murder committed by the two officers at the scene.

So let’s pick this apart, rationally.

Officers are suspicious of the trio, and they want to question them to see if their stories match (Carter is black. The other two men are white). So they separate them. Carter is patted down (a quick pat-down for weapons is all that’s permitted at this point) and placed in the rear seat of the patrol car where he’s questioned by one of the officers. He doesn’t appear to be a threat, so he’s left unrestrained. He can’t flee because he can’t get out of the car. There are no locks or door handles in the rear compartment of patrol cars. This procedure is perfectly normal.

The other two men are handcuffed but remain outside the vehicle for questioning by the second officer. The term for this brief period of detention of the three men is called investigatory detention. It’s perfectly okay for officers to detain and handcuff people during a suspicious situation. It is for the safety of everyone involved, both suspect and officer.

So, if Carter had concealed a gun between his legs, for example, to avoid arrest for the weapon, the time he was in the back seat, unrestrained (before he was under arrest), would have been the perfect opportunity to shove that gun between the seat back and bottom, a practice that’s done all the time.

Yes, officers often find drugs, knives, cash, and other items there. This is the reason officers should search the patrol car after a suspect has been inside. This is especially true when changing shifts. Oncoming officers search their cars before accepting them from outgoing shift officers. An example of how precise the police procedure is on the TV show Southland is, well, you’ll see the officers on the show conducting these searches at the beginning of their shifts.

At this point, everyone was polite, including Carter, the other two men, and the police. Everyone was calm and cool.

Officers find nothing wrong with the two men standing outside the police car so they let them go. However, a “hit” (officer slang for wanted person or stolen property, etc.) comes back on Carter. He’s wanted by police in Mississippi. Therefore, the officers have him step outside the car where they handcuff him because he is now under arrest. They also conduct another more thorough search of Carter and his clothing. This would be the time when officers would search really well, reaching into arm pits, between the legs, buttocks area, etc. You cannot conduct this kind of extremely personal and detailed search on a person who is not under arrest. They find nothing.

Remember, at this point Carter already had ample time to remove the gun from wherever he’d concealed it beneath his clothing, and then stash it between the seat parts (if this scenario is to be believed).

The officers again place Carter in the rear of the patrol car while they stand outside, as is common practice, discussing the case, discussing the weather, kids, or whatever, before heading back to the department, or wherever it is they need to go to process their prisoner.

Next…how could a left-handed person could shoot himself in the right temporal area. Well, I’m left-handed, but I shoot with my right. And, I can shoot almost as well with my left, which would be considered my weak hand when shooting, even though I’m left-handed. Actually, many left-handed people are fluidly ambidextrous—they can do almost anything with either hand.


Additionally, what motive would the two officers have for murdering Carter? He was wanted for a minor offense. He offered no trouble or resistance. There was no struggle. He was extremely polite to them, offering “yes sir’s and no sir’s” in response to their questions. And the officers were polite to each of the three men. To say Carter was murdered by the police simply makes no sense. Of course, at first glance, Carter committing suicide makes no sense. But it is highly possible, quite easy, actually, for the suicide to have occurred just as the police say.

And now we arrive at another puzzling question posed by citizens, that the medical examiners’ report is bogus. Yes, citizen comments on numerous blogs and news reports indicate they honestly believe that the medical examiner(s) are lying to protect two patrol officers they’ve probably never met. I ask you to please think about this for a moment. Why would three respectable and professional medical examiners/doctors participate in the cover-up of a murder? What would they have to gain? What would be their motive? Why would they place their careers in jeopardy over something like this? Easy answer…they wouldn’t.

I suspect gunshot residue testing was conducted along with bloodstain pattern and spatter examinations, both of Carter and of the inside of the patrol car. Those tests, if positive, would further reinforce the findings of the three medical examiners, that Chavis Carter did indeed kill himself.

I also suspect we’ll see a wrongful death suit based on the fact that Carter was the responsibility of the two officers at the scene. And, that Carter killed himself while under their watch. If so, we’ll soon see if sloppy and lax search procedures by the officers come into play, if that’s the case. I also believe we’ll be hearing more about the search procedures and policies of the Jonesboro Police Department in the near future.

But, once again, we have a case being tried in the media before the facts are all in—autopsy, forensic reports, toxicology, etc. This is not how the system is supposed to work. It’s not fair to anyone, including the victim. Does the name Caylee Anthony not ring a bell?

Update (8-23-12)

– Carter was on cellphone with girlfriend while seated in rear of patrol car. He tells her he has a gun and is scared.

– Police talk to a man who admits he told Carter to bring a gun with him to a drug deal.

– Blood spatter found on Carter’s right hand and inside of patrol car rear door. Windows up, doors closed. Officers outside. Witnesses confirm.

– Marks on Carter’s wrists and forearm consistent with handcuffs. One mark on the right arm/wrist is consistent with handcuff pulled high on the arm, also compatible with pulling the cuffs high and tight against the flesh while reaching to touch the upper body/head.

Chavis Carter Autopsy

10 replies
  1. Monica T. Rodriguez
    Monica T. Rodriguez says:

    Great analysis, Lee. In fact, I began reading with the opinion that Carter was murdered, not a suicide. But you presented the facts and likely scenarios (like the common practice of hiding weapons in the seat–that’s a keeper), and I have to agree with you that it’s not a likely scenario. Still possible, but I see now how the suicide is also possible.

    Another great post!

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Lynn. No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is the scenario of missing weapons and other items during searches quite is possible. And yes, those items turn up between the seats, under the seats, in armrests, on the floor, stuck in the joints of the cage, etc. And I can say this because I’ve seen it many, many times with my own eyes. In fact, I know of one instance where a man was searched by one officer, placed in a patrol car, transported to a police station where he was fingerprinted and questioned. Then he was searched again by a second officer who transported the suspect to the jail. THEN, a jailer searched the man and placed him in a holding cell. Fifteen minutes later other prisoners were yelling and screaming because the same man had produced a fully loaded .38 special he’d concealed in his buttocks.

    And, sure, it’s possible that the officers simply decided to walk over and kill Carter for no apparent reason other than because he was black. And, you know, that would be the ONLY reason for it if that truly happened, because there is no motive, that we know of.

    Actually, anything’s possible. But me, well, I cannot say with any certainty (not even a guess) about what actually happened in Jonesboro because I wasn’t there. I can only offer possible explanations based on my many years of experience.

    Have I seen excessive force used? I sure have. Have I seen racism. Yep, and from all sides. Have I seen people abuse police officers? Yep. Have there been conspiracies and cover-ups? Yep. Have I seen people jump to conclusions because they WANT to believe something. Definitely.

    But I prefer to wait until all the evidence is in before condemning anyone. And, I wish others would do the same, but it’ll never happen until people can let go of hatred and stop stereotyping everyone based on the bad folks that walk among every group of people on this earth.

    Now, do I believe the officers shot Mr. Carter? Well, based on the scant evidence I’ve seen in print and on video? No. Is it possible that they did? Again, yes. And, is it possible that Mr. Carter pulled the trigger. It certainly is.

  3. Lynn Emery
    Lynn Emery says:

    Wait, you’re saying Carter possibly had a gun hidden somewhere on him after being searched. He cleverly hid it in the police car. While handcuffed with his hands behind his back. Then he shot himself, still handcuffed, hands behind his back. And conspiracies don’t happen involving law enforcement and related entities, like a medical examiner who works with cops. You think his “suicide” is more far-fetched? Yeah. Right.

  4. Radine Trees Nehring
    Radine Trees Nehring says:

    This case has certainly received a lot of media attention in Arkansas–where I live. I appreciate Lee Lofland’s analysis of what happened, and that scenario certainly seems possible, especially since drugs were found in the man’s system. I hope Lee’s analysis is the right one But then–the accusation of murder (for reason or reasons unknown)also seems possible. I wonder if more will be revealed, and also how long it will take for this event to fade into collective vague memory. I also wonder if all people will ever be satisfied that the real truth is known, given human tendencies and prejudices. Members of Carter’s family may not be satisfied, though I hope bitterness and accusation won’t live on. The biggest problem, perhaps, is that the officers were white and the dead man was black. Think of the history (Rodney King, for example) that crowds in on that.

    That, I believe, is why the case has received such attention, fueled by the bizarre circumstances related here and in the news.

  5. Bob Davis
    Bob Davis says:

    The only way I would believe this kid killed himself is if the video shows the police officers outside the car when the gun fires.

  6. SZ
    SZ says:

    I have not heard of this yet, though too much work, not enough time =(

    I am with the theory that he hid the gun the first time in the car as well. Also, is it possible he was hoping to attack the officers and missed ?

  7. Melanie Atkins
    Melanie Atkins says:

    Wow. An interesting, yet sad case. And yes, the media blows a lot of things out of proportion without bothering to wait for the true facts to come to light. That’s even sadder.

Comments are closed.