Joe Riley apparently knows something about the Denzell Curnell shooting the rest of us don’t. Because right now, Mayor Riley has decided that the tragic death of 19-year-old Curnell is an open and shut case, even before the State Law Enforcement Division releases its report.
According to Riley, the officer involved in the confrontation with Curnell, Jamal Medlin, will be cleared of any wrongdoing. Or as the mayor told the Post and Courier, “I can assure … the community that the police officer did absolutely nothing wrong … The loss of a young man is a tragic event for the community and the family. The SLED investigation, I think, will explain the circumstances.”
With that in mind, you have to wonder if someone at SLED has spoken with Riley, or if this is once again a case where the mayor is blindly supporting the city’s men and women in uniform without getting all the facts first (See, former Police Chef Ruben Greenberg, the Sofa Super Store fire.)
Well, I called up SLED spokesman Thom Berry, and he says that it would be improper for someone there to discuss an ongoing investigation. When asked, if that meant that no one at SLED had talked to Riley about the details of the investigation, Berry repeated his initial statement. Now, what does that mean exactly, I’m not sure. Like you, I have questions about this whole sad affair, the principal one being exactly what led to what appears to be a confrontation between Officer Medlin and Denzel Curnell.
Although SLED and the Charleston Police Department are reluctant to release details about the events leading up to Curnell’s death, Dot Scott of the NAACP has spoken to residents of the Bridgeview Village apartment complex. Scott says that eyewitnesses offer an account that runs counter to Mayor Riley’s claim that the officer “did absolutely nothing wrong.”
According to the witnesses Scott spoke to, Curnell was walking at the complex when he was approached by an officer and that words were exchanged between the two. These eyewitnesses, the NAACP leader says, claim that the officer bodyslammed Curnell to the ground and then shots were fired. (For the record, Berry told the Post and Courier that there was a struggle between Curnell and the officer.)
Now, what words were exchanged and what exactly led to a single shot or more being fired are uncertain. SLED and the CPD are unwilling to talk publicly — at least any further than both organizations already have. And in the case of the young boy’s family, it appears that the police department hasn’t offered them any details, a move, that if true, is negligent at best and senselessly cruel at worst.
Of course, it’s easy to claim that Dot Scott and the NAACP are grandstanding here. That’s the knee-jerk go-to that far too many have, particularly among those asshats who believe that liberal forces — whether it’s the IRS, FEMA, or Bill Nye the Science Guy — viciously conspire against conservatives, but that it’s inconceivable that similar forces — let’s say, your local police department — would show a predatory bias toward African Americans. Heil carumba!
While you may argue that Scott and company regularly engage in histrionics, more often than not, the outrage fueling that hyperbole is justified, if not understandable. In the past, Scott has complained about the city’s stop-and-frisk policies, which regularly target people who are not actively committing a crime at the time of their encounter with an officer. While they may ultimately have a joint or a crack rock in their pockets, the only “crime” they committed was looking nervous when a cop approached them.
However, in the case of Denzel Curnell, I hope that Scott has done her due diligence in trying to get to the bottom of what happened last Friday night. As it stands now, her conclusions go against the earlier police department statement that the death was a possible suicide. Truth be told, Scott tells me that she believes the officer fired the weapon that took the 19-year-old’s life.
At this point there’s no question that the Charleston Police Department has bungled the PR side of the investigation — and Riley’s reassurances certainly don’t help. Admittedly, the CPD has issued an incident report about Curnell’s death, but it’s largely a pointless document from an officer who wasn’t involved in the shooting and offers no real details about the events leading up to shooting. It makes you wonder why the police department released it in the first place, despite their self-imposed and well-verbalized gag order.
All of which is why Riley and Charleston Police Chief Mullen should stop issuing these hollow assurances that last Friday’s tragedy was not caused by Officer Medlin’s actions — at least in part. And they need to stop using the ongoing investigation as an excuse not to release the Medlin’s incident report. The mayor and the police have said too much already. CPD spokesman Charles Francis reportedly even sent out an email to City Council members telling them the shooting was likely a suicide. Riley and Mullen can’t claim that they’re unable to talk about the shooting and then turn right around and talk about the shooting. It’s the height of hypocrisy.
Denzel Curnell and his family deserve better. We need to read Officer Jamal Medlin’s incident report now.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.