Slain man’s family seeks answers on ruling of suicide

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Chavis Carter’s family hasn’t accepted the official explanation for his death: that he was on meth when he fatally shot himself while his hands were cuffed behind him in the backseat of a patrol car in Arkansas.

The family portrays the 21-year-old as a bright young man who aspired to be a veterinarian, who liked shopping for sneakers and playing basketball. As questions swirl about how and why Mr. Carter died, his family also has been demanding more answers from authorities.

“If he did it, I want to know how it happened,” his grandmother, Anne Winters Carter, said in an interview. “And if he didn’t do it, then we want justice.”

Jonesboro, Ark., police have faced criticism because they say officers searched Mr. Carter twice but didn’t find a gun before they noticed him slumped over and bleeding in the back of a patrol car on July 28. Questions about race have cropped up too, because Mr. Carter was black and police said the two officers who stopped the truck he was in were white, as were the other people in the vehicle.

The local branch of the NAACP has called for a thorough investigation, and the FBI has said it’s monitoring the case. Mr. Carter’s grandmother and his mom, Teresa Carter, are also working with a high-profile legal firm that represented O.J. Simpson.

Some of the family’s supporters marched through Jonesboro, Ark., on Tuesday. One woman had a sign that read, “Stop the lies!! No suicide.” That march came a day after a candlelight vigil was held for Mr. Carter in Memphis and police released an autopsy report from the Arkansas state crime lab that deemed his death a suicide.

Mr. Carter had a past — court records show he had an arrest warrant stemming from a drug charge in Mississippi — but his family says there was more to his story. They described him as a good kid who liked bugs and animals.

“He used to always say, ‘The world gonna know my name,’ ” said Bianca Tipton, one of Mr. Carter’s friends. “Now the world do know his name.”

After graduating from high school in 2010, Mr. Carter got some general courses out of the way and was planning on taking classes at a college in Arkansas this fall.

He used to go shopping for sneakers with his grandma. Jordans were his favorite, especially a blue-and-white pair.

“Everything had to match,” Mrs. Winters Carter said.

The ruling that his death was a suicide was confounding to her and others who knew Mr. Carter. It’s not just that he was searched and handcuffed. They note that Mr. Carter was left-handed but was shot in his right temple.

“If he’s double-locked and he’s shot in his right temple, but he is left-handed, that’s the part I don’t understand,” Mrs. Winters Carter said.

Police have released video showing how a man could put a gun to his temple while his hands were cuffed behind his back. They shared footage recorded by dashboard cameras the night of the shooting and sent out a copy of the autopsy report.

“There’s no other explanation to this other than that he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger and that’s what we call a suicide,” said Stephen Erickson, a medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.

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