When the Charleston Police Department is investigating a crime, it wants people with information to speak up.
Now the State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the shooting death of Denzel Curnell, which involves the Charleston Police Department, and the silence from the CPD is deafening.
It's a galling inconsistency, made more so because state law calls for allowing the public access to public information, including police records.
In our news coverage, Andrew Knapp has reported that the CPD interprets the S.C. Freedom of Information Act as justifying its silence because the documents requested by The Post and Courier "might harm the agency." CPD spokesman Charles Francis would not elaborate.
But Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, said that exception typically involves ongoing investigative techniques not known to the public.
Further, the CPD isn't the one conducting the investigation. SLED is. The law doesn't allow police to withhold information on those grounds.
By denying the public its due, the Charleston Police Department is allowing community consternation and skepticism over the incident to fester. Initially, the CPD said Denzel Curnell's death was a possible suicide. Later it said Mr. Curnell had been armed.
Friends and family question why a left-handed man would shoot himself in the right side of his head. They are unhappy that Charleston police instead of SLED agents investigated at the scene where one of their own was involved.
As lawyer for Mr. Curnell's family, Andy Savage has requested the kind of information that is routinely made available following a crime. So far, he has been denied information, too.
The Post and Courier has asked for 911 calls; police radio communications; an autopsy report; emails by police commanders and other city leaders; the personnel file of Jamal Medlin, the off-duty officer at the scene of the shooting; and any related video.
A shooting death is of concern to the family and friends, of course, but also to the larger community. Information can help address important questions: Are our neighborhoods safe? Should we alter our behavior?
The way our law enforcement agencies handle crimes is of vital interest to the public, which relies on police to keep them safe from crime.
By its wall of silence, the Charleston Police Department is depriving the public information that might keep the community safer.
It also is causing Mr. Curnell's family additional heartache and frustration.
It's time for CPD to stop hiding behind an artificial screen and tell people what they are entitled to know.
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