JONESBORO, Ark., (Oct. 23) – Theresa Rudd wants answers. More specifically, she wants to know the truth as to how her son, 21-year-old Chavis Carter, died and she’s willing to go to court to find out.
Nearly one year after Carter was found with a fatal gunshot wound to the head, Rudd filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Jonesboro, Arkansas; as well as Keith Baggett and Ronald Marsh, the two police officers present when Carter was shot and Jonesboro police chief Michael Yates.
Arkansas officials claim Carter shot himself on the night of July 28, 2012 while sitting in the back of a police cruiser – and with his hands cuffed and double-locked behind his back.
An initial investigation by the Jonesboro police determined that Carter committed suicide. Yates said Marsh was reprimanded and temporarily suspended for failing to properly search Carter. He has since been reinstated. The internal investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of the other officer, Keith Baggett, Yates said.
Statements from eyewitnesses, text messages, video and physical evidence established that Baggett didn’t violate any policy or procedure. “Based upon these facts and circumstances I made the decision to return them to active duty status,” Yates told The Associated Press in an email.
“I’m so mad. I’m hurt,” Rudd told WREG TV. “I have accepted the fact that he’s gone. But I want to know what happened.”
Ursula Holmes of The Cochran Firm filed the case in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Rudd’s complaint alleges that two white men in the truck with Carter that night were given “a pass” by the officers and released, even though drug paraphernalia was found in the vehicle. One officer reportedly said if they told him about any “weed” in the truck, he would make it “disappear,” the complaint says. That same officer is heard on a dash cam video saying, “If you come back this way, I won’t help you again.”
The complaint also alleges:
- The officers found a plastic bag in the truck containing a “white substance” and only question Carter about its contents. Carter denies any knowledge of the bag and asks officers to fingerprint the bag.
- Despite being a “few feet” away from the police car, the two officers claimed that neither heard the gunshot that took Carter‘s life.
- One of the officers admittedly picked up the gun reportedly used in Carter’s death. But once a fingerprint analysis was done, there were no fingerprints on the weapon. Not the officer’s. Not Carter‘s.
- Carter was alive when officers found him in the back of the squad car and that one of the officers used his personal cell phone to take at least four pictures of Carter while he “was still breathing.“
- In their initial police reports, both Baggett and Marsh stated they each called dispatch and requested an ambulance because they saw Carter was still alive. Marsh said he took the pictures for “documentation.”
- After Carter was found in the back seat, the police car was washed down, destroying any evidence needed for further or an outside investigation, and almost immediately put back into service.
- Once Carter was transported to the hospital, “members of the Jonesboro Police Department ordered all hospital personnel out of the room and remained alone with Chavis Carter’s body for an unknown period of time.”
- One of the officers, Ronald Marsh, was in possession of an audio recording device “used to record” all his “interactions with individuals with whom he made contact” with that night. But Marsh claims the memory card for the device was “lost” somewhere between the scene of Carter’s death and the police station which is only about a mile apart.
Jonesboro Police have declined to comment on the allegations raised in the lawsuit.
Benjamin Irwin, another attorney from The Cochran Firm, said, “We had numerous witness statements and we were chasing down all the stories being told.” He went on to say, “And we tried to completely uncover as much information as we could pursuing different options and hiring our own team of experts to review the autopsy findings.”