Adam Cote knows what can happen when there is a leadership void in the East Side neighborhood of downtown Charleston, especially after he got shot in the head there on Aug. 8 at 3:30 in the morning.
On Tues., Nov. 1, the neighborhood will have seven candidates to choose from to fill that void in the Charleston City Council Dist. 2 seat. Earlier this summer, Gov. Mark Sanford suspended Councilman Larry “Kwadjo” Campbell after he was indicted on charges of violating campaign finance law.
Cote, a former Manhattan investment advisor who now lives East of the Cooper with his parents, carries with him a small scar the breadth of a pencil just above his left ear where a small caliber bullet entered his skull and pushed its way deep into his brain.
These days, the now unemployed 29-year-old Duke University graduate struggles to find the words to describe what happened — or anything else, really — on that fateful night.
Whenever he gets momentarily stuck for a word his brain can’t retrieve from its damaged language centers, Cote draws out the word on a flat surface with his pointer finger until his brain catches up with his mouth.
“Sometimes the name of a word doesn’t come to me until two days later,” he says. “It happens to everyone, but with me it just happens all the time.”
While Cote has improved in the nearly two months since he was shot, he can’t tell you when he will be able to stop taking speech therapy lessons — not because he can’t say the words, but because it could take “hours, days, years” for his wounded mind to heal completely.
But one thing’s for sure, Cote knows he shouldn’t have been there on that dark stretch, near the corner of Judith and America streets, within shouting distance of the Aiken-Rhett House. Especially since he was trying to buy $20 worth of drugs — pot, he says — from a street hustler for the fourth time in two weeks.
“I mean, what else is someone doing over there at that time of night?” he asks.
Cote sat in his running car on Judith Street that night, waiting for his connection to show up, when, he says, a different man walked up saying he was his replacement.
Instantly worried, Cote says he handed over the money and planned to get out of there fast when, he alleges, the man spun back around and cold-cocked him in the face through his open window with a pistol.
Cote says he was overtaken by a “spiraling sense” of doom, feeling assured that no matter what he did, that gun was going to be fired.
Police arrested the alleged shooter last week after he appeared in a “hip-hop” DVD featuring alleged criminals and criminal activity that’s been making the rounds of local law enforcement offices. Cote had already identified the man a few weeks after being shot from a book of mugshots.
“He had to see the fear in my face, but it didn’t affect him — that’s the part I still don’t understand,” says Cote, measuring his words with care because of a potential court case.
When the gun went off at near point-blank range, it wasn’t as loud as Cote thought it would be inside his enclosed car. Knocked over into the passenger seat, he gunned the engine, trying to escape.
No go; it was still in park.
After he was able to get the car — which his mom had handed down to him — in gear and begin driving off with a bullet in his head so mangled that its caliber may prove tough to determine, the man apparently took a second shot, breaking out the left rear passenger window. The bullet grazed Cote’s shoulder before disappearing into the dash. Cote has yet to replace the headrest, which has a bullet’s entrance and exit holes.
He drove in a daze, called friends he knew would be up, and then 911, telling emergency personnel to meet him at the corner of Coming and Wentworth streets because he didn’t know where the hospital was.
Cote says it still eats at him when he remembers being covered in his own blood and a cop and a nurse telling him, “That’s what you deserve” and “That’s what you get.”
And it still bothers him the way the local media has described the incident simply as a drug deal gone wrong.
“That’s all it is? A drug deal? Versus a serious crime problem right in the middle of the city?”
Cote knows he shouldn’t have been in that part of the city that late at night. He knows drug trade is illegal. He knows using drugs is against the law.
But he’s having a hard time squaring his punishment with his crime.
He’s having an even harder time when driving downtown at night these last few weeks as he convalesces, seeing college coeds jogging late at night downtown despite a recent rash of stickups.
“Don’t think it’s just a matter of time until one of those kids gets shot,” says Cote, with a barely noticeable scar on the side of his head.
And maybe, if there had been a different leader representing the East Side, instead of just representin’, drug dealers wouldn’t continue to flourish there, and maybe Cote wouldn’t have gone there for two dime bags.
And maybe a trigger might not have been pulled.