Calling the official account of Denzel Curnell's death "vague and incomplete," a local NAACP official called on authorities Thursday to tell residents the truth about the 19-year-old's death.
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Developments Thursday in the case of Denzel Curnell, who was fatally shot June 20 in downtown Charleston:
Local NAACP held news conference with family and community members to call on authorities to answer key questions.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP, said, "Those questions are yet to be answered, and, in this case, silence is not golden but is confusing and infuriating."
Scott added, "The community is here to say we want answers, and we want the truth."
A man who identified Curnell as his stepson said he wouldn't stop until he gets those answers. "I want closure ... and I need justice," Dwayne German said.
The Burke High School graduate was shot in the head during an encounter last week with an officer from the Charleston Police Department. That night, a police spokesman said authorities were investigating a possible suicide, but they have released little information since.
The shooting was reported to the State Law Enforcement Division, which took over the probe, to have come during a struggle, spokesman Thom Berry said a day later. Berry said he couldn't provide further information Thursday.
Frustrated by silence from the police and SLED, the president of NAACP's Charleston branch appealed to the agencies to give answers in the case that has been "confusing and infuriating" for Curnell's community. In the more than five days after the shooting, Scott said she had expected investigators to divulge more of their findings.
"If indeed there's nothing to hide, there should not be any obstruction in terms of letting out information," the NAACP official, Dot Scott, said Thursday morning during a news conference near police headquarters. "The community is here to say we want answers, and we want the truth."
Police Officer Jamal Medlin has been on paid leave since the incident around 10:30 p.m. June 20 at the Bridgeview Village apartments on North Romney Street, but he has not been implicated of any involvement in Curnell's death. The county coroner has not determined if Curnell's death was a suicide, homicide or an accident.
SLED took over the investigation that night, but the NAACP said residents raised concerns about how Charleston police officers were handling the scene before SLED got there.
Some of those residents, Curnell's family and other loved ones stood behind Scott in Brittlebank Park. A former neighbor of the family at Bridgeview Village, which Curnell was visiting when he died, clutched two framed photographs of Curnell on the day he graduated from high school and another of him with his sister, Lonese Lang.
Lang, 21, cried out in grief and collapsed before Scott spoke.
Curnell's stepfather, Dwayne German, spoke sternly as he called on the authorities to break their silence and give him and the rest of his family peace.
German bowed his head in prayer and asked people to imagine having no information to ease their minds about how their own sons had died. He said he would not stop until he gets the answers he's looking for.
"Nothing can bring my son back," he said. "I want closure ... and I need justice."
The NAACP got involved in the case minutes after Curnell was shot. Scott said she fielded complaints from residents saying officers were moving evidence at the scene and holding back people from watching the activity.
But Police Chief Greg Mullen on Monday said none of his own investigators started gathering any evidence until after SLED was summoned to the scene about an hour later.
SLED officials eventually agreed to let Charleston crime-scene investigators handle the forensics at the site because the state's own crew would need another three hours to show up, Mullen said. The chief said he wanted to avoid such concerns altogether by having SLED do the probe.
But his department's handling of evidence raised even more suspicion among community members of the investigation.
SLED, Charleston police and the Charleston County Coroner's Office have released little information to dispel rumors about how Curnell might have died and about how police responded.
Both Mullen and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley insisted that city officers had done nothing wrong and had treated the shooting appropriately.
Curnell, known as "Jaba" by his loved ones, had experienced homesickness and was on suicide watch during basic training for the Army about six months before his death, his family's attorney later revealed. He had lost his mother to cancer in January 2013.
Family members, though, said they noticed no lingering depression last week and wondered why the left-handed man would have shot himself in the right side of his head. Curnell's stepfather, after hearing of the death, noticed that his .38-caliber revolver was missing from his Wilson Avenue home. German is the last known person to talk with Curnell before the shooting, the family's attorney, Andy Savage, said. Curnell didn't seem upset then.
Scott said Thursday that the community cannot accept the suicide explanation until the authorities give proof. She called for investigators to release information about testing for gunshot residue, the small particles that can land on the hands of a person who fires a gun.
"I would venture to say everyone out here today, if you've lost a mother, then at some point you've been depressed," Scott said. "So we're not going to swallow that because he lost his mother, he was depressed, and he would have killed himself."
Scott said it was difficult to believe that Curnell had waited to kill himself until he encountered a police officer.
"It doesn't make sense," she said. "It just does not add up."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.