The medical examiner in the case of Chavis Carter, the 21-year-old Mississippi man who Jonesboro, Arkansas police say fatally shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, ruled Carter’s death a suicide, “based on both the autopsy findings and the investigative conclusions of the Jonesboro Police Department.” But one forensic expert calls that conclusion “possible,” but still “very unlikely.”
Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist and former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who is best known for testifying as an expert witness in the O.J. Simpson trial, tells theGrio that if the gun was positioned the way it was in the re-enactment video provided to media outlets by Jonesboro police — with Carter hunched over and reaching behind his back to draw and fire a gun, causing the bullet to pierce his right temple — “it would be possible, I think, but it’s still very unlikely that that would happen.”
Baden said he was surprised by the “give” in the handcuffs, as seen in the demonstration video, which Jonesboro police created in order to demonstrate that it would be possible for a handcuffed person to perform what many have seen as an physically impossible feat. And he said, “given the nature of the handcuffs, which have a lot of space in between them, it’s possible that he did it to himself.”
Carter tested positive for small amounts of amphetamines, methamphetamine “benzodiazepines” and “cannebinoids,” indicating marijuana, the autopsy also revealed. The autopsy said the bullet entered the scull “with a small backward and downward deviation,” and exited out of the left side of Carter’s head.
“I think a couple of things are still very unlikely,” Baden said. “And I’ve never heard of it happening before.” Carter’s mother has said he was left-handed, but Baden said the fact that he was shot via “contact wound” through his right temple would necessarily be impossible. “The lack of a dominant hand is less relevant” when a suspect is handcuffed, “than if he was free to use both his hands,” Baden said.
And Baden said that whether or not Carter committed suicide, responsibility for his death falls on Jonesboro police.
“If it did happen [the way police said Carter's death occurred,] the police still have entire responsibility for it because when they take someone into custody, they’re responsible for his health and welfare,” Baden said. “If he dies in their custody they’re responsible. At the least, we’re talking about very sloppy police work — not finding a gun that he could have used to shoot one of the officers — and it’s indicative of poor training of the officers.”
As to what should have happened after the shooting, Baden said police should have thoroughly examined the police car for gunshot residue.
“They should examine whether there is blood and gunshot residue on the roof of the car, the back seat etc., because blood spatters and smoke and residue would land on the roof, the back of the seat and on [Carter's] hands,” Baden said, adding that such an examination “would permit reconstruction of how the hands were positioned at the time of discharge” of the firearm.
Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidport