Residents of a Charleston apartment complex were simmering Saturday after a teenager was shot to death during an encounter with a Charleston police officer Friday night.
Denzel Curnell, 19, of Charleston died of a gunshot wound, Charleston County Deputy Coroner Kimberly Rhoton said.
The shooting was reported about 10:30 p.m. at Bridgeview Village, a 300-unit apartment complex near the recycling center on North Romney Street. Investigators were working to determine what happened
Handmade paper signs were visible throughout the complex Saturday demanding "Justice for JaBa," the name Curnell's friends called him. A memorial with silk flowers was attached to a utility pole near where he was shot.
A note from a girl named Sunshine summed up the general consensus of the community.
"JaBa was always a good person. He never bothered anyone. One day he was walking in the back of Bayside (Bridgeview's former name) and he heard a voice that said put your hands behind your back, and he did that, and then the police shot him in the back, and we want justice for JaBa."
None of the half dozen residents who were interviewed were willing to give their names, but they all had the same story. They all believed that Curnell was shot while kneeling and had no weapon. Several said they saw it happen.
Charleston police refused to say anything about the incident, other than to say the officer involved was put on administrative leave, which is standard procedure during an investigation. Police spokesman Charles Francis referred all other questions to the State Law Enforcement Division, which is handling the investigation.
WCSC-TV reported that Francis sent out an email to city officials and council members Friday night that police were investigating "a possible suicide." Francis did not confirm or deny it when asked about it Saturday.
SLED spokesman Thom Berry said the Charleston Police Department contacted his agency at 11:35 p.m. Friday and was told that an officer was involved in an incident.
"We were told there was a struggle, and a shot or shots were fired, and an individual is deceased," Berry said. "The officer is OK."
SLED sent three agents to the scene, where they remained until about 3 a.m., Berry said.
"We are trying to determine exactly what happened, and who fired the shot or shots that resulted in the fatality," Berry said. "We are conducting it as an investigation so far. If it turns out to be an officer-involved shooting, it would be the 23rd officer-involved shooting so far this calendar year."
Bridgeview Village has been a challenge for police for years. Somebody was getting shot there every couple months or so until police increased patrols in the area and put up barricades at some of the entrances to control traffic in 2010.
Police blamed the trouble on outsiders coming in to conduct drug deals. Many of the residents protested the barricades, but violent crime dropped dramatically.
Curnell did not have a police record, according to an online check of Charleston County court records. Residents said he graduated from Burke in 2013, was living with his sister because his mother died recently and he was planning to enlist in the military.
Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott was in the complex talking with residents Saturday. She said they all told her Curnell was shot while he was down on his knees.
"They were enraged about what had happened," she said. "I don't know enough to say the officer was wrong. There are too many unanswered questions. We're gravely concerned about the number of killings by police officers in Charleston. Hopefully we'll feel better when we get all the facts."
Elder James Johnson of the National Action Network was talking with residents late Saturday afternoon.
"We want people to stay calm until we find out all the facts," he said. "We will see justice served if the police were negligent."
About a dozen people in their 20s stood at King and Spring streets late Saturday afternoon holding up signs with slogans such as "Justice for JaBa" and "Stop the Violence." They said the protest was organized on Facebook and declined to give their names.
An online petition at change.org calling for "the officer who shot Curnell" to be prosecuted had drawn more than 1,600 signatures Saturday night.