LITTLE ROCK (AP) — An Arkansas police officer was reprimanded for not properly searching a young man who authorities said subsequently shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.
Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates said Tuesday that an internal investigation found Officer Ron Marsh did not conduct a thorough enough search of 21-year-old Chavis Carter before Carter’s July 28 shooting death. An autopsy determined Carter shot himself in the head while he was under the influence of meth, though his family has continued to demand more answers about his death.
Marsh and another officer who stopped the truck in which Carter was a passenger were placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, and Yates said they have since returned to work. Marsh will also have to undergo more training, in addition to the formal reprimand issued this week.
Marsh didn’t return a message left at the police department.
Police said the two searches of Carter turned up a small amount of marijuana but no gun. Questions about race have cropped up, too, because Carter was black and police have said Marsh and the other officer involved are white.
Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis, Tenn., lawyer representing Carter’s family said he found it troubling that Marsh was returning to work so soon.
The internal investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of the other officer, Keith Baggett, Yates said.
Statements from eyewitnesses, text messages and video and physical evidence established that Baggett didn’t violate any policy or procedure, Yates said.
"Based upon these facts and circumstances I made the decision to return them to active duty status," Yates told The Associated Press in an email.
Authorities said they presume Carter hid the gun in the back of the patrol car after the first pat-down, before he was handcuffed and searched again.
Marsh’s official reprimand letter, obtained by the AP under a public records request, said that in addition to not searching Carter properly the first time, he also failed to search the back seat of the patrol car.
The letter, signed by a supervisor and dated Monday, said "a search of the back seat unit was not conducted at that time, despite the fact that he had been seated in the unit for several minutes uncuffed."
Police said an investigation into Carter’s death and drug-trafficking associated with the case is ongoing. The FBI has said it is monitoring the case.
"It has been clearly and unequivocally established that Carter took his own life while under the influence of mind-altering drugs and while engaging in a series of criminal acts," Yates said in an email. "In preparation for civil action, the investigation continues so that we may identify all parties associated with the case and seek additional witnesses if they can be identified and located."
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.
Authorities said there were problems with the audio and video that explain the absence of a gunshot or noise on the recordings, though the lawyer for Carter’s family hasn’t accepted that explanation.
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