After Denzel Curnell was shot Friday night during an encounter with a police officer, the Charleston Police Department's own crime-scene investigators started gathering forensic evidence.
Curnell, 19, died around 10:30 p.m. next to a roadside curb in Bridgeview Village, a downtown apartment community long known for violence and drug deals.
After the investigation began, some city leaders got an email from a police official, saying it might have been a suicide.
Agents from the State Law Enforcement Division didn't come in to "process" the scene, a customary practice for officer-involved shootings, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said. Instead, the city's own technicians handled the job.
"When a police officer is involved and shots are fired, normally we're called in to do the investigation," Berry said. "It's a fairly standard practice."
What exactly drove the city to eventually hand over the case entirely to SLED is something Berry said he didn't know. Lingering questions about what happened and about how the police handled the scene also stirred up more rumors in the neighborhood Sunday and prompted a call for federal authorities to take over the probe.
Neither Berry, Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis or Deputy Coroner Kimberly Rhoton released any further information about what led to the gunfire that killed Curnell, a Burke High School graduate known to his friends as "Jaba."
They still could not confirm whether the officer had fired the shot.
Rhoton said she could not release exactly where Curnell's body had absorbed the single, fatal gunshot. His manner of death, such as suicide or homicide, also had not been determined, she said.
"We're waiting on the investigation to be complete," Rhoton said.
The dearth of information perplexed some local leaders, including Tony Lewis, a member of the Charleston County School District's board of trustees for the Charleston peninsula. Lewis recalled shaking Curnell's hand when he walked across the stage at graduation last year.
Curnell had planned to join the military.
"The kid had a bright future," Lewis said. "He was no problem kid. He was going to fight for his country."
Children on Sunday gathered around the utility pole that stood next to where Curnell had died. A pile of gravel covered bloodstains on the pavement underneath.
The children wrote notes that said, "We love you, Jaba," and tacked them onto the pole next to others. Some of the letters professed to be from witnesses of the shooting.
Like the writings, Lewis repeated word of what happened.
All of the stories have stated that Curnell was walking across the road outside the North Romney Street apartment complex when he encountered at least one police officer. He had stopped at the officer's commands and had his back turned when he was somehow shot, according to the accounts.
Lewis, like others who told the story, also questioned the handling of evidence.
The SLED spokesman said the Charleston police would have gathered most of the forensics at the site because state technicians had not been asked to perform that duty. Often, departments whose officers are involved in a shooting will ask SLED to handle the investigation entirely, Berry said.
Lewis said he would call on South Carolina's congressional delegation to demand a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"It's going to get hot here," Lewis said of the community uproar. "It's going to get very hot."
The officer in the episode has not been named. Berry said the identification would be up to the Police Department, whose spokesman, Francis, did not immediately respond to questions Sunday.
Berry said the officer likely would be allowed get a few nights of sleep before giving a full statement to SLED agents. That practice is typical in officer-involved shootings, but those outside law enforcement who are involved in shootings typically are not afforded the extra shut-eye.
The SLED official said that he realized rumors were flying but that he couldn't address them.
"It's a situation where we just need time to do our work ... to discover all the facts that came into play," Berry said. "We're going to try to do it as expeditiously and thoroughly as possible."
City Councilman James Lewis, whose district borders the one where the shooting happened, said he knew of the email Friday night that initially classified the case as a possible suicide, but he could not immediately provide a copy of it. It's a scenario that he said didn't make sense if Curnell, who was liked by many and had a seemingly bright future, had gotten into a struggle with an officer.
"I don't even know what happened," Lewis said. "I certainly do hope we can get some answers, and I hope that's soon."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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