What we do know is this: Southaven resident Chavis Carter was convicted of dealing marijuana and had violated his parole. When Jonesboro police stopped him on the night of Sunday, July 29, they searched him twice and found about $10 worth of drugs in his pocket. They didn’t find a gun. They handcuffed him behind his back and put him in the back of a police car.

What happened after that is under investigation, but police claim Carter somehow managed to obtain a gun and shoot himself in the head while handcuffed. Authorities have labeled the case a suicide.

The victim’s family and many human rights advocates aren’t so sure. They think the official police report of what happened would be nearly impossible. Their concerns have made national news as an investigation into the young man’s tragic death continues.

The whole thing sounds fishy to me, too. As a wrongful death lawyer in Memphis, I want to know information about the case that’s not being released yet in the papers:

  • Who are the “witnesses,” and what exactly did they say?
  • What does the ballistics report say?
  • What are the past arrest records of the police involved? Have any brutality complaints been made against them?
  • Did Carter show any signs of suicidal tendencies?
  • How did officers find $10 of marijuana but not find a handgun after 2 searches?
  • Or did the police leave a loose gun in the back seat of their car?

All of these questions and more will play into this wrongful death case.

I say will, because indeed this does seem like a wrongful death.

All death is wrong, of course, and for any man to lose his life over a small bag of pot or a parole violation is unspeakably sad. But in Carter’s case, there’s even more at play here than whether the drug war is hurting people like him for no good reason.

Ultimately, were the police officers either a) negligent in their search of Carter, b) negligent in keeping a gun in the back seat, or c) guilty of manslaughter or murder?

It can only be one, but it does have to be one.