Police memo gives new details, raises fresh questions in Chavis Carter case

Bree Coleman, right, wears a tee shirt with a picture imprinted on it she says she made of Chavis Carter, in Jonesboro, Ark., as Sakhiya Bell, 4, runs past Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012. About 20 people marched in protest of the July 28 death of Carter that was ruled a suicide in the back of a Jonesboro Police Department car. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Bree Coleman, right, wears a tee shirt with a picture imprinted on it she says she made of Chavis Carter, in Jonesboro, Ark., as Sakhiya Bell, 4, runs past Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012. About 20 people marched in protest of the July 28 death of Carter that was ruled a suicide in the back of a Jonesboro Police Department car. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Jonesboro, Arkansas police released two documents Wednesday that offer significant new details in the case of Chavis Carter — the 21-year-old Mississippi man who police say shot himself to death in the back of a patrol car where he had been detained, in handcuffs — by officers.  But the documents, a lengthy press release and a memo from the director of the Arkansas State Crime Lab, which performed the autopsy on Carter following the July 28 incident, raise new questions about the incident, which has been ruled a suicide by the Arkansas medical examiner.

Why didn’t the crime lab conduct gunshot residue tests on Carter’s hands?

The autopsy report stated that Carter was brought to the medical examiner’s office with his hands “bagged,” and Dr. Michael Baden, a noted forensic expert who testified as an expert witness during the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, told theGrio that such a test would be critical in determining whether the coroner’s ruling — that Carter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound — is credible. But Arkansas officials performed no such test on Carter, even though Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates reportedly requested one.

The Crime Lab memo, which is dated March 20, 2001 and is procedural, does not relate to the Carter case specifically. But, it states that gunshot residue is “easily lost,” especially if not collected right away, and that in any case, its presence or absence doesn’t always indicate whether the subject fired the weapon or was merely in the presence of someone who did. For that matter, the memo states that the Arkansas State Crime Lab only analyzes gunshot residue results from shooting suspects, not from “victims of homicides or suicides.”

Why did the second officer’s dashcam audio malfunction, and are there gaps in the recording?

The dashcam video released by Jonesboro police of the night Carter and two other men were detained by police contains gaps, particularly in the audio portion of the footage from the second responding officer, Officer Marsh. The new memo states that Marsh’s audio malfunctioned while he searched Carter for weapons for the second time, and that “Officer Marsh can be heard conversing with Carter about having anything in his shoes and just previous to this he can be heard conversing with the unknown female who identified herself as Carter’s aunt.”

The report continues:

Fortunately, and due in part to Baggett’s’ proximity to Marsh, Carter, and the “aunt,” the conversation is picked up on Baggett’s video/audio during this malfunction. Soon after this Baggett and Marsh are observed on the video/audio in front of Baggett’s vehicle. We presume that this is the point in time where the weapon was discharged in the rear of the police vehicle and due to the malfunction of Marsh’s video/audio this explains the absence of a gunshot or noise on the recordings. [Emphasis added]

Were there witnesses to the actual gunshot?

The police report states that they make the presumption that the audio on Officer Marsh’s dashcam video cuts out just before the gunshot, “after significant review of the witness statements and audio/video files. We also have compared these audio/video files to the 911 tapes to establish an essentially unbroken time line.” Who were those witnesses? Was it the “aunt”? Or the other two young men who were the driver and a fellow passenger in the car with Carter when they were stopped by police? Or were there other bystander witnesses to the event?

Do the “blood spatter” and cuff marks on Carter’s risk support the ruling of death by suicide?

The report states that:

High velocity blood spatter was present on Carter’s right hand indicating that his hand was in very close proximity to the contact wound in his right temple area. High velocity blood spatter was also present on the rear passenger door of the patrol unit where he was discovered as well as the fire arm that forensics determined was used to cause Carter’s fatal wound. These facts and circumstances are consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The witness statements of the officers and bystanders all stated the patrol car doors and windows were closed and the officers were not near the car until Carter was discovered. This virtually eliminates any possibility that the fatal wound was caused by any weapon other than the one recovered in the rear of the vehicle and that its discharge was caused by Carter.

It also states that autopsy photos of Carter’s hands show wrist markings that match those left on several police officers who participated in a re-enactment of the shooting, which was videotaped and released to the media that it was possible to shoot oneself in the head while handcuffed. The markings were the same, the police report claims, even though photos of the volunteers’ wrists were taken right away, while those of Carter’s wrists were taken hours after he died.

Next: Are police offering a theory of a suicide motive?