Reynolds announced he has cancer in a 2021 video message | File photo | Credit: Charleston Police Department Facebook

Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds, 56, succumbed Monday to cancer at an area hospice facility with his family by his side. A public visitation period will be May 28 in West Ashley, followed by a celebration of life service May 30 in Mount Pleasant.

“Charleston has lost not just a great police chief, but one of the finest human beings that many of us will ever know,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said in a statement. “Luther Reynolds was a modern man of ancient virtues: faith, honor, courage, duty. 

“But most of all, and at his very core, Luther was a man of love. He loved his family, his friends, his life. He loved this city and the brave men and women who keep it safe. He loved God, and in faithful service, he loved his neighbor.”

The Rev. Kylon Middleton, a Charleston County councilman who worked closely with Reynolds with The Illumination Project, said the chief’s death had broken his soul.

“He was a phenomenal spirit and someone who will forever hold a place in my heart and led with faith,” Middleton said, adding that the chief jumped in immediately when he came to Charleston to work on tough problems and promote healing in a complex city.

Reynolds, an empathetic but firm leader who lost a leg last year in a battle with cancer that started in late 2021, announced May 17 that he was ending cancer treatment and entering hospice care. 

In an open letter to Charlestonians, he said he hoped by sharing the news publicly, “we can also share with these other families some small measure of the love and support we’ve received over the past two years. We want them to know that in these difficult moments, they are not alone, and that our larger Charleston family prays for them as well.”

Firm, graceful leadership

Reactions to Reynolds’s death were emotional.

“My heart is absolutely broken over the loss of Chief Luther Reynolds,” said Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano. “We should all be so thankful that we grew to know this man who served the Charleston community with dignity, grace and compassion. I will miss my friend and confidant.”

One rank-and-file Charleston Police Department (CPD) officer related the agency’s heartbreak.

“Chief Reynolds has been a shining example of what it means to be a servant leader,” the officer said. “More importantly, he is a caring and compassionate man of faith who values others above himself. 

“We at CPD are so fortunate to have been led by someone who so clearly exemplifies the values of this job. The chief’s contributions will live on through us as we work to keep our community and each other safe and well.”

North Charleston’s new police chief, Greg Gomes, also offered condolences to Reynolds’s family: “We are all better officers and people watching Chief Reynolds lead with compassion, grace and passion,” he said. 

Charleston City Council member Peter Shahid recalled how Reynolds embraced a call for a racial bias audit of the department.

“The one memory that encompasses the chief’s commitment to our community was the response to the May 2020 riot, his willingness to receive criticism, learn from that experience, and impose changes to avoid another night of violence we all abhorred,” Shahid said.  “The bravery he showed during his long fight with cancer set a bar for all to emulate in the face of adversity.

Joined Charleston Police Department in 2018

Reynolds, who has served as chief of the Charleston Police Department (CPD) since April 2018, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in late 2021. In February 2022, he announced his leg had been amputated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to remove the cancer. In the weeks ahead, he underwent extensive rehabilitation but was soon back on the job. 

“He understood the importance of engaging with different communities within Charleston and led by example, actively participating in school visits, anti-gun violence walks and various community initiatives,” said one local nonprofit, The Formation Project. “His commitment to building partnerships with fellow law enforcement agencies demonstrated his dedication to collaborative efforts in crime prevention and building trust.”

Before coming to Charleston, Reynolds served about 30 years in Maryland with the racially diverse, suburban Montgomery County Police Department where he rose from the ranks to assistant chief. He had a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and a master’s degree in business from Johns Hopkins University. 

In his May 17 open letter, he shared how he felt about being allowed to serve as chief.

“You welcomed me and my family into this remarkable city, and with your support, we have built an even better, even stronger police department. I cannot tell you how proud I am of the men and women of the Charleston Police Department, and how honored I am to have led them.”

ARRANGEMENTS: A visitation for the public will be 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 28 at McAlister-Smith Funeral and Cremation, 2501 Bees Ferry Road, Charleston. A celebration of his life will be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 30 at Seacoast Christian Community Church, 750 Long Point Road, Mount Pleasant.

To honor Reynolds in lieu of flowers, you are encouraged to make donations to the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center Sarcoma Research Center, the department said.

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