A few weeks ago, I wrote about 21-year-old Chavis Carter of Jonesboro, AR. Carter was pulled over by police. It turned out he had a warrant for his arrest. Before being placed in the police car, Carter was searched. Then, he was taken out of the patrol car and searched again before being handcuffed and put back in the patrol car. Police found a small amount of marijuana in Carter’s possession, but no weapons. After being double handcuffed and placed in the back of the patrol car, the left-handed Carter somehow got shot in the right temple. Police claimed it was suicide and now, an autopsy obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, is backing them up.
From the Associated Press:
“It’s obvious they did miss the weapon on the first search. It is likely, since he was placed into the car un-handcuffed the first time, that he had an opportunity to stash the weapon in the car,” Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates said last week. “The second search, which was more thorough and inclusive, did not disclose the weapon either.”
The media is reporting that medical examiners have determined that Carter had several drugs in his system, including, amphetamines, methamphetamines, marijuana, the anti-anxiety medication Diazepam and the painkiller Oxycodone. That’s partially true. Further blood tests were only able to replicate methamphetamines. Urine tests showed amphetamines, Benzodiazepines and the marijuana.
Investigators put together this video reenactment with a similar sized man (Carter was 5’8″ and 150 lbs.). Here’s the video:
More importantly, the attorney representing the Carter family says that police have not released gunshot residue evidence, which could offer more definitive evidence that a gun was even shot from his hands. There is also no indication of whether gunshot residue tests were preformed on the police officers.
Chavis Carter was African-American and Jonesboro Police Chief, Michael Yates is no stranger to race related controversies. At one time, he was the police chief for a town called, Americus, Georgia, where he was called, “rogue.”
From the The Grio:
John Marshall, who was president of the NAACP while Yates was Americus’ police chief, says he found the leader of the force to be a negative influence. “He is a rogue police chief,” Marshall told the Grio. “We did everything to get him out of here, and it’s been a great relief to have him away from here. But he left a lot of his men that were abusive and violent. And that’s his nature. He’s the worst thing we’ve ever seen.”
Marshall’s strong feelings result from a scandal which pitted the Americus NAACP against Yates when he was chief. Marshall, who is also the owner and publisher of the black newspaper, The Americus Sumter Observer, says the NAACP was working at the time to expose abuses he says Yates’ officers were perpetuating against the black community.
“Basically the conflict we had with him was this. We had an NAACP vice president that used to go to the city council meetings and complain about Yates’ behavior. He was being rough with our citizens. Several of his police officers were beating guys unnecessarily — a lot of abuse,” Marshall alleges.
Yates used unsavory means to return fire, Marshall believes. ”In order to get back at my vice president, [named Craig Walker], he did an illegal background check on this young man and found out that when he was 17 he had [been involved in a robbery],” Marshall told the Grio, adding that Yates “did not follow the proper steps to do that. You are not supposed to do that unless there is a real cause for that kind of search.”
In response, the local NAACP launched a campaign to have Yates removed. Instead, the chief voluntarily stepped down. “They really let him resign and get on out of here, which we were glad of,” Marshall related about the conclusion of the incident.
Nelson Brown, currently an Americus city council member, served under Yates as a commander. “I don’t want to rehash any old wounds. We are trying to move forward,” Brown told the Grio about his time working for Yates.
Yet, Brown believes that he “had some issues with race. He was not good for the department,” Brown said. “When he left the department, it was in worse shape than when he got there, and we managed to recover. He came to our department like he was on a mission. And that mission was not for the growth of the department, nor the community, as a whole.”
Some have claimed that it’s not the same Michael Yates, except he admits that he’s the same Michael Yates.
The Jonesboro Police Department told The Grio that only 3 of its 149 police officers are African-American, 2% in a town whose African-American population is over 18%. Attempts at diversifying its first responders have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Michael Baden, the former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, told The Grio that the scene created in the reenactment ”would be possible, I think, but it’s still very unlikely that would happen,” and, “given the nature of the handcuffs, which have a lot of space in between them, it’s possible that he did it to himself.”
“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.
The FBI is monitoring the case and the NAACP is asking for further investigation. Look for other civil rights organizations to be demanding more as well.
Why isn’t the Chavis Carter case catching on like Trayvon Martin? They both involve young African-American men and they both lead to discussions of institutionalized racism and of white privilege. While the Martin case exposes the flaws of Stand Your Ground laws, it involved two private citizens. The Carter case, on the other hand, involves people that we entrust with our very safety, the police.
Most people have heard of the Blue Wall of Silence, which refers to the long-held belief that police protect each other. But does that silence go even beyond the police stations? Could it be that mainstream media outlets are hesitant to offend police? In these days where local news consists of little but crime coverage, offending the police is tantamount to cutting off yourself from sources. Could it be something simpler? Are we, as a society, only capable of truly examining racism every few months or years?
No one is claiming that all police officers are racist. I’m not even making the claim that the majority of police officers are racist, but when racist people are given badges and weapons, the trust of the community and the Blue Wall of Silence, the results can be deadly.
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