Soon after police said Denzel Curnell shot himself, two women called 911 to complain that no paramedics were tending to the 19-year-old.
If you go
What: NAACP meeting
When: 6:30 p.m. July 24
Where: Fellowship hall of Morris Brown AME Church at 13 Morris St. in downtown Charleston.
But by then, the authorities said Curnell already had died after a gunshot rang out June 20 during his struggle with a Charleston police officer outside the Bridgeview Village apartments.
The recordings were released Wednesday afternoon in response to repeated Freedom of Information Act requests from The Post and Courier. The tapes depict the high tensions that officers already were facing that night in the neighborhood historically fraught with violence and drugs. The first caller gave an account that investigators said they later disproved through forensic evidence.
"Somebody's baby just got shot out here by one of these police officers," she said. "There's 9,000 officers out here, but there's no paramedics or nobody out here. This don't make no sense."
Despite rulings Monday that cleared Officer Jamal Medlin of criminal wrongdoing and called the shooting a suicide, the high emotions in the recordings have persisted in the neighborhood for three weeks. Charleston NAACP leaders on Wednesday cited the case and the community's reaction in pondering a request for a federal investigation into accusations of racial profiling by local police agencies.
The Charleston Police Department had refused to approve the 911 calls' release until the State Law Enforcement Division finished its probe into Curnell's death. None of the callers, though, purported to be eyewitnesses.
One said her cousin's child had been shot and was "just lying on the ground." The other renewed her request to get help for Curnell as the police presence increased.
"All I see out here is 10,000 police cars," she said. "No EMS, no nothing."
'Dignity and respect'
People who think they have been profiled will get a chance to speak at the Charleston branch's monthly meeting July 24, the NAACP said. Branch leaders said their call specifically pertains to those with accounts about run-ins with Charleston and North Charleston police and with the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.
It came after community members challenged Medlin's reason for approaching Curnell. Medlin saw Curnell as overdressed because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and long pants - a possible indicator of criminal activity. But activists said his clothes were typical of young black men.
Police spokesman Charles Francis said in a statement Wednesday that the agency was committed to treating everyone fairly and impartially "to build trust and reach positive results."
"It is our desire to have positive interactions that treat all citizens with dignity and respect," Francis said. "This has been our goal in the past and will continue in the future."
At the Sheriff's Office, a process already "encourages anyone who believes that their rights have been infringed upon by an employee" to file a complaint, Maj. Eric Watson said. People can report accusations of excessive force and racial profiling, he said.
Deputies also have participated in past NAACP meetings, Watson said, and have asked people there to express such concerns.
"In order for any agency to address a complaint properly," he said, "that agency needs to first be made aware of it so that appropriate action can be taken and the incident is properly documented."
At the North Charleston Police Department, which has come under fire in the past for aggressive patrols and frequent traffic stops in high-crime, mostly black communities, spokesman Spencer Pryor declined to address the NAACP's move.
In Charleston, NAACP branch President Dot Scott said much about the confrontation between Curnell and Medlin remains unknown. She recently fielded three other reports in which she suspected racial profiling, Scott said.
"We still need to ask the hard questions," she said. "We need to know if there's a culture ... condoning this behavior."
She started getting calls about Curnell's death 15 minutes after it happened, she said. Some alleged wrongdoing by the police, but investigators later said Curnell had used a gun he had taken from his stepfather's house to fatally shoot himself.
Scott also asked people interested in reducing area homicide rates to attend the meeting next week.
Through midday Wednesday, 33 people have been slain this year in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. That compares with 23 by this time last year, a 43 percent increase. About 70 percent of the victims in 2014 so far were black.
Scott said that the spike in homicides has caused concern among local NAACP leaders but that the organization most often gets involved in cases when police action is questioned. That's when black people most desperately need an advocate in their corner, she said.
In Curnell's case, the officer there when he died also was black.
Further accounts of profiling might prompt NAACP leaders to request a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice, they said. The department's Civil Rights Division has investigated cases nationwide in which the use of force, threats or intimidation on the basis of race have been suspected, according to its website.
Attorneys from the division's Criminal Section are still looking to answer civil rights questions in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin and in the Sanford, Fla., Police Department, which didn't immediately pursue charges against Martin's killer.
George Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, argued that he shot the black teenager in self-defense, and a jury acquitted him during a trial. But the shooting raised accusations of racial profiling and prompted the Justice Department inquiry.
Because Martin, 17, was wearing one when he was shot, the hooded sweatshirt, or hoodie, became a symbol used by people protesting the circumstances of his death.
In Charleston, Scott said Medlin's statement that noted Curnell's hoodie was "racially charged."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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