Police in Jonesboro, Arkansas released two dash cam videos in the case of Chavis Carter, a 21-year-old man who died July 29 in police custody. Police initially called his death a suicide. The case has had the city on edge as questions swirl about how someone in police custody could have shot and killed himself in the back of a police car, as authorities said, after they searched him twice, found no gun, and handcuffed him.
In one video, Carter can be seen being restrained and questioned by police officers. In the second video, a man can be heard saying, "He was breathing a second ago." Neither video shows whether Carter shot himself in the head as police contend.
The release of the dash cam video comes after Jonesboro police released a video this week of officers reenacting how someone could commit suicide while restrained in the back of a squad car. Also included in the release were witness statements that backed up the police account.
In a statement Jonesboro police said, "Given the heightened sensitivity regarding this investigation, we felt it important that these witness accounts be made public."
The family of Carter, an African American, and many in the town speculate that Carter may have been killed by police. The two officers who pulled over the vehicle were white. The case has led to a rise of tensions in Jonesboro, with public vigils and an online effort calling for a more thorough investigation of the actions of police on the night of July 29.
Police say Carter was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car after officers learned there was a warrant for his arrest in Mississippi. Police said that when they first pulled up to the pickup truck in which he was riding, the other two inside gave their identities but Carter identified himself as Laryan Bowman.
But in the dash cam video police released today, Carter can be heard spelling his name. Police say Carter was found with a small amount of marijuana and some small plastic bags commonly used to package drugs in his pocket.
Police say they then put Carter in the back of a police car as they interviewed the other two, both white, who were with him. Although police found drug paraphernalia underneath the seat where one of the two was sitting, both were released. In the video one can see them drive off.
Police said that when they returned to their vehicles to leave with Carter in custody, they saw him slumped over, and found he had shot himself with a gun that he had concealed. The video appears to end before this occurs.
One of the witnesses, Jamie Anderson, told officers she noticed the pickup truck driving around suspiciously and saw when police stopped the vehicle. She said she saw police officers separate Carter from others and 15 minutes after, she heard a loud pop.
Anderson told an officer the police car windows were closed and that the officers "were standing outside of the car when I heard a pop." When asked about news accounts and the belief by some that police killed Carter, Anderson shook her head in disapproval, and said she did not believe that.
Another witness, Jason Parmenter, said he was at a friend's house playing cards when they got a call from Anderson, saying that she saw a white pickup, which had been driving around suspiciously and was parked in front of her house. Parmenter said his friend called police, and he watched as officers arrived on scene and handcuffed the three men in the pickup truck. Later, he said he watched as someone in another car drove up and talked to officers while Chavis was in the police car. He said when that person drove away he later watched officers scurrying back and forth between their cars.
Carter suffered a gunshot wound to the right temple. Police said "a small .380 caliber cobra semi-auto firearm was discovered, as well as an expended case, and a projectile (which was recovered in the rear of the vehicle). This evidence was packaged and has been sent to the state crime lab. The firearm had previously been reported stolen by a resident in Jonesboro (June 2012)."
Benjamin Irwin, the attorney for Carter's mother, continued to doubt the police account and questioned the evidence release.
"We are invested in what happened in those moments leading up to the shooting. The gun, who put the gun there, the timeframe and who pulled the trigger," said Irwin.
Irwin said it was the officers' duty to protect Carter.
"How is it that a trained officer of the law can search a young man not just once, but twice, handcuff him, place in the back of your squad car and if he had a handgun not detect it? They are either completely incompetent or they are not being completely truthful about what truly happened," said Irwin. He said Carter was not suicidal.
Police said they are still awaiting the complete autopsy report as well as forensics. The FBI is also monitoring the case.