Police: Girlfriend of man fatally shot while handcuffed said he had gun

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    Handcuffed man's death ruled suicide

Handcuffed man's death ruled suicide 01:38

Story highlights

  • Girlfriend was interviewed by a detective on Wednesday, police say
  • Chavis Carter made two calls while in a police car, phone records show
  • The 21-year-old had been searched for a weapon twice
  • He died from a single shot at close range

Police in Arkansas said Wednesday a man fatally shot while handcuffed in the back of a police car had called his girlfriend that night and told her he had a gun and was scared.

Chavis Carter, 21, died July 28 while in the back of a Jonesboro Police Department car from a close-range gunshot.

On Wednesday, police issued a news release, saying that because of the unusual nature of his death, they were going to release some information in the wake of many Freedom of Information requests even though the investigation is ongoing.

The lead investigator interviewed Carter's girlfriend Wednesday, police said, and she told him that Carter called her from the police car, said he loved her, that he was frightened and had a gun. The girlfriend's name is not mentioned in the release.

The police report from that night shows officers originally put Carter in the back of a car without handcuffs before determining that there was a warrant for his arrest in Mississippi. They searched him a second time before leaving him handcuffed in the back seat of a patrol car where he died.

Police said Wednesday they presume Carter hid the gun while in the car the first time.

Phone records indicate he made two calls that night.

    The Arkansas medical examiner has ruled Carter's death a suicide.

    "At the time of discharge, the muzzle of the gun was placed against the right temporal scalp," the crime lab's report states.

    Police said they discovered a .380-caliber Cobra semi-automatic pistol when they found Carter's body slumped over.

    An attorney for the Carter family said Wednesday that he was disturbed to learn that no gun residue test was done on people at the scene.

    "Anyone searching hard for the truth would have performed those tests on Chavis and the arresting officers," Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis-based attorney for the Cochran Law Firm said in a written statement.

    Jonesboro police said they prepared Carter's hands to be examined, but the crime lab has a policy that it doesn't test suicide or homicide victims.

    "Police have been too busy trying to prove their conclusion to consider any other possible scenarios," Irwin said. "The lack of a gun residue test is further proof that the search for critical evidence has been overlooked."

    Many people in Jonesboro were skeptical about the shooting, as was Carter's mother.

    "I think they killed him," Theresa Carter told CNN on August 15. "I mean, my son wasn't suicidal."

    She also said her son was left-handed and wondered how police could find a bag of marijuana and not find a gun when they searched her son.

    There have been several protests in Jonesboro by citizens who don't believe the explanation by police.

    Police have released a video in which an officer dramatizes how someone could shoot themselves while in the back of a police car. The officer was the same height and build as Carter, police said.

    They also have released the interview room video of a witness who said police were standing outside the car when a shot was fired.

    The autopsy also showed that Carter tested positive for marijuana, amphetamines (including meth) and benzodiazepines, classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as depressants.

    Also in Wednesday's release, the police said they talked to witnesses who appeared in a video from Carter's cell phone. One of the witnesses, who is in jail, said he texted Carter and requested he bring the gun to a drug deal that July night.

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