Denzel “Jaba” Curnell, 19, died from a bullet wound to the head after an encounter with a South Carolina police officer on Friday night in, what authorities claim, was a suicide. But witnesses tell a different story, reports the Charleston City Paper.
Several witnesses, who refused to be named, say that Officer Jamal Medlin told Curnell to get down and put his hands behind his head as he walked through Charleston’s Bridgeview Village apartments. And once he did that, Medlin allegedly shot him in the back.
An autopsy, however, revealed that Curnell died from a bullet wound to the right side of his head—which still raises difficult questions, reports the Post and Courier.
Curnell, according to family, is left-handed and had everything to live for.
“He wanted to travel in the military. He wanted to get married and have children. His life was cut down at an early age,” said his aunt Sylvia Campbell.
Curnell, a recent graduate of Burke High School, was administratively discharged from basic training in Georgia.
The Post and Courier reports:
When Curnell enlisted last fall, an Army officer saw a young man who could motivate himself and other recruits.
The recent Burke High School graduate was focused, confident and ready to take on rigorous training. A staff sergeant noted those qualities at a North Charleston recruiting substation, where prospective soldiers are evaluated.
“Future soldier has been outstanding,” the recruiter wrote in Curnell’s paperwork. He “would make a great addition to the U.S. Army.”
But during Curnell’s basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., officials noticed depression, hopelessness and separation anxiety. He had lost his mother to cancer earlier that year.
On the night of his death, Curnell’s step-father said that he had not noticed any “depressive behavior.”
Though family and friends say that Curnell did not have a weapon, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said in a press conference Monday afternoon that a firearm was recovered at the scene and there is “no evidence” that Medlin fired the shot that killed Curnell.
“A vacuum occurs, and rumors, speculation, and inaccurate information fuel a version of the event that can cause anger, distrust, disruption, and misinformation,” Mullen said. “It is especially disappointing when this misinformation creates a divide between the police and the community that we are working hard to foster positive relationships.”
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. released the following statement:
My heart goes out to the family of Denzel Curnell. It is so very sad to have a young life ended. Denzel and his family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers … Because the City police officer was at the scene, normal protocol require that this matter be investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division. They are in control of the investigation. It is not appropriate for the City to present the 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.
Though police have not been forthcoming with information, Dot Scott, president of the local NAACP chapter said that “in this case, silence is not golden but is confusing and infuriating”:
Why was a young man with a clean legal record and a bright future in the military stopped by a police officer for simply being on the street? Why did his encounter with that officer end in what’s alleged to be his suicide —and why would a left-handed young man in a stressful situation shoot himself in the right side of the head? Why would an officer trying to stop a suicide be seen by witnesses with his weapon in his hand?
Why did the agency with the officer involved process the crime scene before SLED’s arrival? Why was the involved officer given time off and an opportunity to gather himself before speaking with investigators — a procedure usually followed when law enforcement officers fire their weapons and injure or kill their targets?”
Medlin, who has been on the force since to 2011, has been placed on paid leave pending the completion of an investigation.
A petition has been started to prosecute Medlin and hold him accountable for Curnell’s death.