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Lack of Information From Police Contributes To Speculation of A Coverup In Bridgeview Shooting
6/25/2014 3:54:40 PM

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullens at press briefing Monday afternoon. Photo by Tolbert Smalls, Jr.
By Barney Blakeney

Charleston police want to establish a relationship that fosters trust and cooperation with the diverse communities it serves. But the June 20 shooting death of a 19-year-old man in the criminally troubled Bridgeview Village apartment complex, formerly known as Bayside Manor apartments, is proving much remains to be done before that relationship becomes a reality.

About 10:30 p.m. June 20 a call went out over the department’s radio network. An off duty officer working security at the complex was asking for assistance. Shots had been fired and a crowd was gathering. The officer said he needed assistance with crowd control.

According to a police report that wasn’t released to the public until two days later, when the first responding officer arrived at the scene, Officer J. Medlin who had asked for assistance was standing at the side of his marked cruiser. A motionless man dressed in dark clothing was lying face down in front of the car. The report said a gun was found. It offered no information about who owned the gun or who fired the shots.

Charleston police immediately after the incident sent emails to city officials stating the incident was a ‘possible’ suicide. Police officials publicly offered no information otherwise. The lack of information coming from authorities led to an abundance of misinformation being spread.

Word of mouth and social media facilitated a discourse fraught with misinformation. Some versions of the incident said 19-year-old Denzell Curnell had struggled with the officer, that Curnell had been shot by the officer while kneeling after being apprehended and that he had been shot in the head or back. Still police officials remained unwilling to shed any information that might offer any understanding.

Police policy is to have an outside law enforcement agency investigate incidents involving that department’s officers. Usually the S.C. Highway Patrol investigates traffic incidents and the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigates other crimes. SLED was called to investigate the Bridgeview shooting, but unusually, Charleston police processed the crime scene.

Several unusual actions by Charleston police combined with a lack of information contributed to continued speculation. That emails were sent describing the incident as a ‘possible’ suicide although an officer was involved and that Charleston police processed the crime scene conjured speculation of a ‘possible’ coverup.

Charleston City Councilman James Lewis said the social media almost immediately carried versions of the incident saying the officer shot Curnell. It also described Curnell as a law abiding young man who had graduated high school last year, entered the Army and recently completed basic training. A young man unlikely to commit suicide.

On Monday Lewis said, “It makes you wonder how something like that would happen to to a young man with no criminal record or history of violence.”

Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott said she learned of the incident less than two hours after it occurred. And although she went to the scene the next morning, by Monday she still knew almost nothing about the incident beyond what was being said by some claiming to be witnesses.

Some claims were that Curnell was in a kneeling position and had been kicked by the officer before he was shot. A family member who had to identify Curnell’s body told Scott he had been shot in the head. If there was a struggle, why would Curnell shoot himself, Scott questioned. She asked who authorized the emails that were sent to city officials and why.

“We need some answers and they’re not forthcoming,” Scott said Monday. By mid-afternoon Monday Charleston police offered to hold a 4:30 p.m. press conference to present some information. Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten an hour earlier had issued a statement.

In an effort to clarify misinformation and misconception Wooten issued a statement only saying Curnell died from a single gunshot wound to the head. “I will not make a ruling as to the manner of death,” she said. It may take six-eight weeks before conclusive information is available, Wooten said. She’s asked that the process be expedited.

At the police department’s press conference, Chief Greg Mullen said there is no information to indicate that Medlin is implicated in Curnell’s death or had fired a gun.

In a statement issued about 5 p.m. Monday, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley reiterated that SLED is in control of the investigation and that it is inappropriate for Charleston police to present complete details until SLED’s investigation is concluded.

“I am completely confident that the results of the SLED investigation will conclude that the City of Charleston police officer’s actions were proper in all circumstances,” Riley said.

Scott said while the public has gotten no answers to some obvious questions being asked, people should keep a level head, get as much information as possible from reliable sources, allow the system to work and go forward from there.

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Theodore Stebbins Submitted: 6/28/2014
It is a well known fact that cover ups take place.

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