Story and Photos by Steve Watkins
JONESBORO, AR – Rev. Jesse Jackson led a prayer vigil and peaceful march to the Jonesboro Police Department on Wednesday, calling on authorities to make account for a missing segment of video that would explain how a man died in the back of a police car.
It’s a case “shrouded in mystery,” Jackson said, with “many unanswered questions to be pursued.”
Jackson attended a series of meetings in Jonesboro and Memphis on Wednesday following the death of Chavis Carter, arrested by authorities on the night of July 28. Carter was handcuffed, placed in the backseat of a patrol car, and minutes later was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head.
Police have released video of the event, absent a three-minute segment that includes
the moment of Carter’s death. An autopsy performed by the Arkansas State Crime Lab ruled the death a suicide, but Jackson and others question the ASCL’s ruling and the lack of details released in the case.
“The authorities are giving what amounts to a Houdini explanation for how a handcuffed man, left-handed, could shoot himself in the right side of his head,” Jackson said. “This smells like a cover-up and the stench is growing.”
Jackson said Carter’s family asked him to contact the U.S. Justice Department calling for an independent investigation of the case. Earlier in the day, he met with Carter’s mother at The Cochran Firm in Memphis.
The crime lab report showed Carter’s blood contained trace amounts of methamphetamine, marijuana and anti-anxiety medications at the time of his arrest.
Two arresting officers searched Carter twice, who was wearing only boxer shorts and a t-shirt before placing him under arrest. Jackson and others now question how police missed Carter’s alleged possession of a handgun.
The Carter case has prompted a number of accusations against the Jonesboro Police
Department with allegations of racial profiling and claims that officers target minorities in low-income neighborhoods.
Some have called for the resignation of police chief Mike Yates, further claiming he left his previous position in Americus, Georgia under questionable terms. Claimants have produced no such evidence against Yates.
One JPD officer speaking on condition of anonymity said further details will be released soon, making it clear Carter’s death was indeed a suicide. He said arresting officers in their search, did, in fact, miss a .380 caliber handgun in Carter’s possession.
“It’s a horrible, horrible thing any time when something like this happens,” he said. “But accidents do happen. I searched a man twice in one case and missed an eight-inch knife on him. It’s just a miracle he didn’t use the gun to fire on the officers.”
The officer said he believed Jackson’s visit complicated the divide between African-Americans and the JPD.
“He’s supposed to be an educated man, and everyone would be a lot better off if he waited to get the facts before passing judgment in a case like this. It’ll be clear soon how all this came about.”