By Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
JONESBORO, Ark.—The mother of a young, black man fatally shot while handcuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against two Jonesboro Arkansas police officers, their chief, and the city.
Attorneys for Teresa Carter filed the action one year after officers Ronald Marsh and Keith Baggett claimed while they were not looking, Chavis Carter shot himself with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Police Chief Michael Yates stands by claims that Mr. Carter committed suicide.
“I filed the lawsuit to really get more answers about what happened to my son that night because him killing himself, I’m just not buying that,” Ms. Carter said.
She wants to know why his fingerprints weren’t on the gun; why the police car was cleaned up; and why medical personnel were ordered out of the hospital room for an unspecified period of time.
The days since her son’s death have been very rough, the mother said.
“I have so much anger built up. I’ve been stressed, depressed. My life is just tore up right now. And it’s going to be that way until I can get some answers about what did happen to my son on July 28, 2012,” she continued.
Her suit was filed July 23.
Part of her healing process was to hold memorials and prayer vigils July 28, in Jonesboro and one in Tunica, to mark the one-year anniversary of her child’s death.
The lawsuit and memorial occurred as national protests and outrage over the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman, who killed Florida teen Trayvon Martin, on charges of second-degree murder.
“There are a lot of similarities being drawn between this case and Trayvon but the difference is we know what happened to Trayvon Martin. We don’t know what happened to Chavis. We don’t have a clue because the story the police department’s telling just makes no sense,” said Attorney Ursula Holmes of the Cochran Firm, which represents Ms. Carter.
The lawyer noted inconsistencies: Police searched Mr. Carter twice, handcuffed him, yet he was shot at close range in the head with an entry wound on the right, though he was left-handed. In addition, the video cam in the car where he was being held mysteriously went out during for 10 minutes and when it comes back on, Mr. Carter has been shot. No gunpowder residue tests were done on his hands.
“What happened to Mr. Carter is absolutely bizarre but deaths like his, though unique in how it occurred, are not isolated,” Attorney Holmes said. “There are three lawyers in our firm. Each attorney has cases involving shootings and all of the victims are young, black men.
“I think we have to connect them. I think ultimately the problem is black men are undervalued. They aren’t being valued and I think that’s across the board because apparently these people aren’t being held accountable for treating them like they aren’t human beings,” she said.
The lawyer’s biggest issue with the Trayvon Martin case is with the Sanford, Fla., police department. Because of how authorities handled the death, it was going to be next to impossible to get a conviction as the investigation happened two weeks or more after the shooting, she explained.
Activists are working to petition the Department of Justice to open an investigation into allegations of corruption and abuse by the Jonesboro Police Department and for the possible murder of Mr. Carter, according to Kareem Ali, a Muslim activist who has been aiding Ms. Carter and her family.
“The climate is distrust from the community toward the police. And based on the degree of crime and violence in the community, the police have a sense of service with protection of self in mind. So there is a degree on sensitivity training that has to be enhanced by police towards the community and in those communities where crime and violence is highest there must be respect for self and authority implemented. So our work is cut out for us,” Mr. Ali said.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 4 print edition.