A young man in handcuffs reportedly attempted suicide in the back of a patrol car this weekend in Austin, Texas. The unidentified man survived a gunshot to his head, but there are lingering questions about how he was able to conceal a gun, reach for it, and shoot himself in police custody — all while handcuffed.
The Austin Police Department (APD) has yet to reveal the name of the shooter, who is reportedly in his teens or early 20s. Officials say he was arrested for shoplifting on Sunday, but officers at the scene believed the suspect could have had additional warrants and wanted to run his fingerprints at the department headquarters. On the way there, the man expressed suicidal thoughts and told the officers that he was on the verge of hurting himself, police say. Moments later, he reportedly whipped out a gun.
Police say the arresting officers jumped out of the car to alert people in the surrounding area and unsuccessfully attempted to talk the young man out of pulling the trigger for six minutes.
“If this individual had chosen to remove that weapon and fire it at the officer instead, without saying something, we could be discussing a very different incident here today,” Police Chief Brian Manley said.
The shooter is now fighting for his life at a nearby hospital, and authorities are reviewing dash camera footage to investigate the shooting.
But the suspicious circumstances leading up to the suicide attempt raise questions about how the arrest unfolded and how the young man was able to shoot himself while handcuffed. It is unclear if the suspect was searched before he was transported to the police station, and whether or not officers tried to prevent the shooter from hurting himself while he was talking about doing so.
The alleged suicide attempt is the latest in a string of in-custody shootings that occurred under dubious circumstances.
In 2012, 21-year-old Chavis Carter allegedly shot himself in the head while his hands were cuffed behind his back in a police car. Arkansas officers said they searched him twice, but Carter managed to conceal his firearm both times. Carter’s mother argued that there was foul play, pointing out that her son was left-handed but died of a gunshot to his right temple.
In 2013, police said 17-year-old Jesus Huerta committed suicide in the back of a cop car. A medical examiner in Durham, North Carolina concluded that he died of a gunshot to the mouth, but the city’s officers found him in the backseat with his hands cuffed behind his back.
And in 2014, Louisiana police claimed 22-year-old Victor White III shot himself in the back of a patrol vehicle while handcuffed, although his parents adamantly denied White was suicidal. He was a new father and hoping to attend community college.