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Reported by Andrew Scot Bolsinger
Denzel “Jaba” Curnell, 19, died from a bullet wound to the head after an encounter with a South Carolina police officer on Friday night. Police are calling it a suicide but witnesses say an officer fired the gun.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said in a press conference Monday afternoon there is “no evidence” that police fired the shot that killed Curnell. He cited misinformation in creating a divide between police and the community.
“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.”
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, according to The Daily Mail.
But even those reports are inaccurate, according to an autopsy that found Curnell died from a bullet wound to the right side of his head, The Post and Courier reported.
Curnell, according to family, is left-handed and wasn’t someone who was suicidal.
“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.
Everything seems contradictory in this story. Curnell, a recent graduate of Burke High School, was administratively discharged from basic training in Georgia.
According to the Post and Courier, Curnell earned high praise from military recruiters who called him focused, confident and ready to take on rigorous training.
“Future soldier has been outstanding,” a recruiter wrote in Curnell’s paperwork. “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, Mullen said that a firearm was recovered at the scene.
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.”
Dot Scott, president of the local NAACP chapter, said police have not been forthcoming.
“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?”
Medlin, who has been on the force since to 2011, has been placed on paid leave pending the completion of an investigation.