LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The girlfriend of a man who was fatally shot in the back of an Arkansas patrol car told an investigator that he called her from the car and said he had a gun with him, police said Wednesday.
Jonesboro police offered those and other new details in a four-page statement about the investigation into the July 28 death of 21-year-old Chavis Carter. The death was ruled a suicide in an autopsy report released earlier this week.
Carter’s girlfriend also told the investigator that Carter said he loved her and that he was scared, according to the police statement, which did not identify the woman. Phone records showed Carter made two calls, at least one of which was from the back of the patrol car, police said.
Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis, Tenn., lawyer representing Carter’s family, said Wednesday that he was reviewing the latest information from police.
“I think the critical points still remain that this young man was in police custody,” he said. “He lost his life at a time when they had a responsibility and duty to protect him.”
Police have been facing criticism since they said officers searched Carter twice but didn’t find a gun before he was fatally shot in a patrol car. Race is also an issue in the case because Carter was black and police have said the two officers who stopped the truck he was in are white.
The police statement said there appears to be no doubt that an officer missed the gun when he initially patted Carter down.
“It is presumed that Carter secreted the gun in the rear of the car after the pat-down but before the cuffing and second search,” the statement said.
The statement said it was meant to be “a brief preliminary investigative summary” and noted that the investigation into Carter’s death isn’t complete. However, the statement said evidence and witness statements support the medical examiner’s conclusion that Carter killed himself.
Spokesman Sgt. Lyle Waterworth didn’t respond to an email or phone message seeking further comment.
Police also said they tracked down a man from a video on Carter’s phone who said he sent Carter a text message asking him to bring him a gun shortly before his run-in with the officers. That man also said Carter was involved with a drug deal involving 4 ounces of marijuana, police said.
Police have said officers found marijuana on Carter when they searched him. The autopsy report also said he tested positive for meth and other drugs.
The police statement also said blood spatter on Carter’s right hand showed his hand was close to the contact wound on his right temple. Blood was also on a rear passenger door of the patrol car, police said.
Officers and bystanders said the patrol car doors and windows were closed and that the officers weren’t near the car until Carter was found, police said.
“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,” police said in the statement.
The Arkansas state crime lab confirmed Wednesday that it did not perform gunshot residue testing on Carter, saying it doesn’t do that kind of analysis on victims of homicides or suicides.
The confirmation came after Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates told The Associated Press that the department had requested the testing but that it wasn’t done because of the agency’s policy.
The lab’s chief criminalist, Lisa Channell, said the testing can indicate whether a person was in an environment with gunshot residue, but “it cannot tell you whether the person pulled the trigger or not.”
The crime lab’s policy is not new. A 2001 memo sent to law enforcement officers said being in close proximity to a gun when it’s fired can lead to positive gunshot residue test results and that negative gunshot residue results don’t mean someone didn’t fire a gun.
Still, Irwin questioned why the test wasn’t conducted.
“To me, that’s horrible,” he said.
Police previously released video recorded from dashboard cameras the night of the shooting, but the footage didn’t appear to show when officers found Carter slumped over and bleeding in the backseat of a patrol car as described in a police report.
Police said there were problems with the audio and video that explain the absence of a gunshot or noise on the recordings.
Irwin, Carter’s family’s lawyer, didn’t buy that explanation.
“These things are crystal clear from a reception standpoint and from a functioning standpoint,” he said. “And then they just malfunction for three minutes when this young man lost his life? I am just not ready to accept that as the answer.”
The police statement came out less than an hour before Carter’s mom marched with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other supporters in Jonesboro.
“We hope that people concerned about justice, White and Black, would find some common ground as we pursue this case of justice,” Jackson told reporters in Memphis, Tenn., hours before the Jonesboro march. “We simply want justice and fairness in the land. … We are convinced the explanations given so far are not credible ones.”
— Associated Press