To the NAACP, the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell was the last straw.

For years, civil-rights activists have talked about requesting federal investigations into officer-involved shootings targeting black men in the Lowcountry. Charleston branch President Dot Scott said last year that it was "badge of honor" for law officers here to kill them.

In the past decade, though, local NAACP leaders have never formally asked for a federal probe into the shootings or alleged racial profiling.

That's changing, they said, after Curnell died last month in a confrontation with a Charleston police officer that prompted questions about the department's "stop-and-frisk" policies. But the chances that the endeavor will prompt a probe into racial profiling by area police agencies remain a long shot, Scott acknowledged, unless the accusations are extensively documented.

Residents were asked to share their own accounts of racial profiling during an NAACP meeting Thursday night. About 50 people showed up, and more than half raised their hands to indicate that they had stories to tell. But only five told them. To the NAACP leaders, it was typical of their struggle in getting people to come forward.

"The NAACP can't do enough to satisfy the need for justice that the community feels for the sake of this young man," Scott said. "If ever there was a poster child for how profiling is so wrong, unfair and unjust, Denzel Curnell is a perfect example."

Curnell's shooting was ruled a suicide, but it came during an encounter that started because the officer had noticed the hooded sweatshirt Curnell was wearing despite the heat.

The NAACP officials expect to file a written request with the U.S. Department of Justice that mentions the case, stories gleaned from the meeting and others gathered in the coming weeks. They have called for accounts about Charleston and North Charleston police and the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.

The Charleston Police Department already has investigated some complaints internally, and none of the cases have shown racial profiling, Deputy Chief Tony Elder said. The agency uses a "thorough process" to make a determination "based on the facts," Elder said.

"As a Police Department, we don't use any type of profiling," he said, "racial or otherwise."

'Appropriate time'

At the Morris Brown AME Church in downtown Charleston, NAACP leaders handed out fliers at the meeting Thursday night.

"Erase all doubts," they read. "Justice for Denzel!"

"There really is not a more appropriate time for us to have this discussion," Scott said in urging the attendees to speak out.

Two sheriff's deputies in plain clothes sat in the back as Ramon Caraballo, 28, told of his time living on Charleston's East Side.

Caraballo, who is black, said he often walked back from downtown bars to his home on Hanover Street. His roommate, who is white, usually came along. He talked about an experience he had about five times, he said.

"They pulled up in police cars and said, "Let me see your ID,'" Caraballo said. "They sometimes just ran up and started checking your pockets. ... Those are the kinds of things people should just not have to deal with."

But Caraballo didn't want to give his account to the NAACP on paper.

One man talked about being arrested for walking on the wrong side of the road in North Charleston. He then railed again banks that foreclosed on homes in black communities.

Percell Ross, 45, said he was stopped last week for running a red light in North Charleston. He got out at the officer's command, Ross said, and the policeman frisked him. He didn't know why he was being searched.

A sergeant later arrived and "tried to intimidate" Ross by putting his hand on his holstered pistol, Ross said.

"I knew it was wrong," Ross said. "But you might get shot if you speak out."

Ross has not filed a complaint with the North Charleston police.

'Smoking gun'

Activists' dissatisfaction with the outcomes of internal probes, though, played into their call for the federal investigation, they said.

Before Thursday's meeting, the NAACP already had gotten involved in three complaints against the Charleston police.

One of the cases was still under investigation, Elder said.

In another, Elder said a police officer was found to have acted appropriately in an encounter with a man who "showed deception" in a polygraph test during the internal probe.

In the third, Mark L. Blake Jr. said Officer Cory Goldstein had unfairly followed his car last year through West Ashley because of its dark window tint and out-of-state plates. The police said, though, that Blake was stopped for a traffic violation before he fled and later shot Goldstein.

"This will continue to happen unless we push for the investigation," Scott said. "It has to be exposed."

Curnell was decked out in a black hoodie and black pants as he walked through the Bridgeview Village apartments June 20. Officer Jamal Medlin said the sight struck him as odd and a possible sign of criminal behavior.

During their encounter, Curnell wouldn't take his right hand out of his pocket, so Medlin tried to take him into custody.

With the officer on top of him during a struggle, Curnell pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head, authorities later ruled.

Activists' complaints in the case hinge on the Police Department's stop-and-frisk policies that lay out factors officers can consider in developing reasonable suspicion that someone might be acting criminally. Among them are wearing heavy clothing in hot weather and being in a high-crime neighborhood. The activists have questioned whether the policies run contrary to Fourth Amendment provisions against unreasonable searches.

To Scott, a federal probe would answer the questions about Curnell's death that still puzzle community members and might root out the problem they have alleged for years.

"All we're asking for now are the facts," she said. "This case is probably what folks would call a smoking gun."

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