Framed For Suicide: Four African-Americans & Hispanics That Police Allege Committed Suicide While Hands Were Handcuffed Behind Their Backs
Chavis Carter, 21 (Arkansas) - July 29th, 2012
The death of Chavis Carter, a 21-year old American male who was found dead from a gunshot while handcuffed in the back of a police patrol car on July 29, 2012, was ruled a suicide by the Arkansas State Crime Lab.
Carter was in the passenger seat of a pickup truck which was stopped by the Jonesboro, Arkansas Police Department. It was reported that an officer found small amounts of cannabis on his person after a body search and ran his information through the police computer network. The officers discovered that he had an outstanding warrant, so they placed him under arrest, searching him again and handcuffing his hands behind his back before placing him in the patrol vehicle.
Minutes later, the officers discovered that Chavis Carter was shot in the head. The officers found a semi-automatic, .380-caliber Cobra pistol near the body. The Jonesboro Police Department believe that he had hidden the gun on his person that the officers did not detect through the two searches and used it on himself. Carter’s mother disagreed, claiming that Carter had no history of suicidal thoughts or actions, and addressed the fact that he had made arrangements with his girlfriend to meet him at the prison the next day, and that the police killed him. In addition, she states that he was left-handed and was handcuffed behind his back, yet the bullet entered through his right temple. The two officers at the scene were placed on administrative leave and an investigation was started.
A video was released by the police in which a police officer of similar height and build to Carter shows how Carter could have shot himself while handcuffed in a police car. A witness to the event said the police were outside the vehicle when the shot was fired.
The FBI were requested by the Jonesboro Police Department to investigate the death.
The local NAACP sponsored a vigil. There have been several protests in Jonesboro due to many not believing the police explanation of Carter’s death.
On August 20, 2012, the Arkansas crime lab ruled the death as a suicide. Carter’s autopsy report indicated he tested positive for amphetamines, benzodiazepines and marijuana.
Jesus Huerta, 17 (North Carolina) - November 19th, 2013
Durham Police and State Bureau of Investigation agents are investigating while a family mourns the loss of a 17-year-old who died in custody Tuesday morning.
During a news conference Tuesday, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez identified the victim as Jesus Huerta. Huerta was a student at Riverside High, according to school officials. Lopez said Officer Samuel Duncan was transporting Huerta to headquarters to pick up a warrant charging the teen with second-degree trespassing.
When Duncan arrived at police headquarters, he heard a loud noise in the car and Duncan jumped from the vehicle.
The patrol car then rolled and crashed into a van in the parking lot. Lopez said that it did not appear that any officer fired a weapon during the incident.
A cause of death has not been determined at this time and Huerta’s body has been sent to the medical examiner’s officer.
Duncan has been placed on administrative leave with pay, which is standard procedure.
Jacqueline Murillo, a cousin of Huerta’s said, “He was really funny, creative, nice, and would be really respectful.” She found out what happened after she came home from school.
Durham city council member, Steve Schewel believes the Durham Police Department, like any other organization with more than 500 employees, can make mistakes.
"Sometimes mistakes are made and sometimes people do thing where they probably don’t exercise their best judgement. That definitely happens and we need to reduce the number of times it happens," said Schewel.
As for Murillo and her family, the loss is unbearable.
"I really started crying when I first found out. We were really close" said Murillo.
Troy Hill, a junior at Riverside High School said, “We’re here as a family at Riverside, so one of us pass away, it’s like we just lost a family member.”
Huerta has faced charges before including possession of a burglary tool, resisting a public officer and trespassing on Feb. 16. He was charged with second trespassing on Nov. 12, 2012 and then possession of marijuana with intent to sell in Oct. 2012.
All those charges were dismissed.
Tyree Woodson, 38 (Maryland) - August 6th, 2014
According to Baltimore police, 38-year-old Tyree Woodson was able to sneak a gun past them at the time of his arrest, get the gun into a holding cell and later shoot himself while handcuffed in the bathroom. Tyree Woodson died this Tuesday of a gunshot wound, and now a day later there are more questions than answers about what happened in his holding cell bathroom.
The police department is claiming that the weapon did not belong to them, and that they have no clue where it came from.
“We don’t know how the weapon made its way into the police station, let alone into the bathroom,” Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez told CBS News. “We know it was not our weapon.”
Woodson was allegedly wanted on attempted murder charges, and if that is the case then it is certain that the arresting police would have taken extra care in searching the suspect. The idea that a person who police described as a violent criminal would not be thoroughly searched immediately after he was apprehended is a bit hard for some people to believe.
Some local activists have already demanded an independent investigation, but as usual the police will be conducting their own internal investigation.
In recent years, there have been countless stories of nearly impossible suicides that apparently occurred while suspects were in police custody. Last year, 17-year-old Jesus Huerta of North Carolina, died in the back of a squad car while he was handcuffed and after he was searched.
In that case the police conducted and internal investigation and determined that the case was a suicide.
Victor White, 22 (Louisiana) - March 2nd, 2014
The night Victor White Sr.’s son died in the backseat of a cop car in New Iberia, Louisiana, he called the local sheriff’s station to figure out where his boy was.
“I asked them if he’d been apprehended, and they told me no,” he said to me. It wasn’t until the following morning, March 3, that Victor Sr. found out his son, Victor White III, had been arrested and died while in police custody. But he didn’t receive the news from the New Iberia Sheriff’s Department—he got the call from his son Leonard, who also lives in New Iberia and had been questioned that morning by police in connection with the death of his brother.
Immediately, of course, Victor Sr. made the two-hour drive from his home in Alexandria down to New Iberia to find out what the hell was going on. But the cops refused to tell him anything about the circumstances surrounding his 22-year-old son’s death, citing an ongoing investigation by the state police. At that point, Victor Sr. had no idea his son’s death was caused by a gunshot to the back while he was still in handcuffs in the backseat of a patrol car. Every official he talked to was cagey.
“They wouldn’t even let me see the body,” Victor Sr. told me over the phone. Eventually, when they realized he wouldn’t take “no comment” for an answer, they brought in the coroner and allowed Victor Sr. to take one look at his deceased son—but even then, they had conditions. “They told me I couldn’t see his lower body,” he told me. “I could only see his face.”
Still completely in the dark about what had taken place, Victor drove back home in utter shock. “It wasn’t until I got back and looked on the state police’s Facebook page that I found out what had happened to my son.” Even then, the official version of events opened up even more questions than answers.
Here’s what is known at this point: On Sunday, March 2, Victor White III walked down to a convenience store with a friend to pick up a cigar. When he got there, a fight broke out—it’s unclear if Victor and his friend were involved, but in any case the cops arrived on the scene shortly after the fight ended, stopped Victor a couple blocks from the store, and discovered that he had some unidentified narcotics on him. They cuffed his hands behind his back and put him in the back of their cruiser—and that’s where the story stops making much sense.
The sheriff’s deputies who arrested Victor III allege that when they arrived at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, Victor III wouldn’t leave the car and became “uncooperative.” They say he pulled out a handgun, while his hands were cuffed behind his back, and shot himself in the back.
I called the state police and the local sheriff’s office to ask questions about whether Victor’s last moments were caught on video, who the officers in question are, and how a suspect in police custody could have had a gun after being frisked, but no one would comment anything of substance since the shooting was being investigated. (This is standard operating procedure at police departments.)
Lieutenant Anthony Green, however, was willing to give his take on New Iberia’s response to the shooting, stating, “The community is not really up in arms about this. I don’t sense any large unrest.”
This isn’t the first time the Iberia Sheriff’s Department has been suspected of brutalizing the people of New Iberia. Last year, a group of officers were caught on video beating a handcuffed man at the town’s annual Sugar Cane Festival, an incident that led to a deputy’s firing. And at least a few activists are upset by this history of mistreatment. On March 11, Reverend Raymond Brown, a fast-talking New Orleans preacher, hosted a small rally in New Iberia and called for the US Justice Department and the FBI to investigate Victor’s death.
“We believe they murdered him,” he told me over the phone. “They shot him in the back and then drove him to the sheriff’s office. We don’t buy the police’s story. If he’s handcuffed around the back, it would be impossible for him to reach down and grab a gun like that.”
To those close to Victor III, the claim that he would try pull out a gun and shoot himself while in the custody of police is just absurd.
“He was a respectable person. He went to church. It’s so unusual for them to say he was ‘uncooperative.’ And for them to say he shot himself, that’s just unbelievable,” said Victor Sr. “I saw his face. I know they beat him before he arrived at the station, because those who were with him before he was arrested said he didn’t have a mark on him.”
According to his father, Victor III’s previous run-ins with the law were minor—the kind you’d expect of any young man: He was caught once with pot, he got a traffic violation for making a U-turn a while back, and when he was 16 he broke someone’s window. Local police officials, however, would not elaborate for me on Victor White III’s criminal record, once again citing the ongoing investigation. But Victor Sr. said that at the time of his death, Victor III was getting his life on track: He’d moved down to New Iberia in November to be with his girlfriend and his six-month-old daughter and was living out of a hotel called the Cajun Inn with one of his brothers, his girlfriend, and his baby. He’d taken a job at the local Waffle House, but his long-term plan was to go to vocational school for welding. The day Victor III died, he told his dad over the phone that he was planning on using his $800 income tax refund, which he was carrying around that night in cash, to get a permanent home for his girl and his baby. Everything seemed to be falling in place.
Outraged and dissatisfied, Victor Sr. and his family have banded together to try and get to the bottom of what happened to Victor White III. They’ve hired attorney Carol Powell Lexing, who gained statewide recognition for her work on the Jena Six case. Severely skeptical of the state investigation and the local police, Victor Sr. and the White family have also created a campaign to raise funds for an independent autopsy and crime-scene tests. Simply put, they’re tired of waiting to hear from the police.
"My family has no closure, because there are all these questions still looming over us,” Victor Sr. said to me in a moment of reflection and lamentation. “I’m just in disbelief. I still call out his name. I still think I’m going to wake up from this nightmare.”
UPDATE: According to the White family’s lawyer, Carol Powell Lexing, there is video footage that confirms Victor III was not involved in the fight outside the New Iberian convenient store, which caused the police to arrive on the scene and stop and question him.