The local National Action Network and other community activists on Thursday called for the replacement of 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson as lead prosecutor on the murder case against the former North Charleston police officer who fatally shot Walter L. Scott.
Thomas Dixon of The Coalition: People United To Take Back Our Community helped deliver the message at the Charleston County Judicial Center on Broad Street.
“The community doesn’t trust that at the end of her prosecution, we’re going to see what we perceive to be justice,” Dixon said. “She has not given us a history of prosecution in these cases that would earn our trust.”
Dixon cited lingering questions in the community about the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell, who investigators said shot himself in June during a struggle with a Charleston police officer. Wilson found no cause to pursue charges in the case.
In addition to the State Law Enforcement Division, which is leading the murder probe in Scott’s death, the FBI is looking into the April 4 shooting in search of any civil rights violations. Scott ran from a traffic stop by Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager, who chased after him. The white police officer has said that he got into a struggle with Scott, who was black, over his Taser and that he shot Scott because he felt threatened.
But a video showed Slager shooting eight times at Scott, who was running from the officer.
James Johnson, president of the local National Action Network chapter, said he and other activists want Slager’s case transferred to another judicial circuit.
Wilson said in a statement Thursday that it remained her mission “to seek justice ... in a reasonable, honest and efficient manner.” She vowed to remain accountable to area citizens.
In earlier statements, she promised to update the public when any developments arise. Last week, for example, she revealed that the S.C. Supreme Court had assigned a judge outside the area, 3rd Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, to handle the case from start to finish.
“Since the outset of this case, my office has worked diligently alongside the Scott family,” Wilson said Thursday. “We are grateful for their continued support and we appreciate their letting us focus on the task at hand.”
But Dixon has said that past incidents involving police officers have eroded some trust in the judicial system.
Curnell was a law-abiding young man, but he had a history of depression and was carrying a revolver on the night in June when a Charleston police saw that he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt despite the heat and lingering near the Bridgeview Village apartments — suspicious behavior to the officer.
Curnell didn’t follow the officer’s orders to take his hands out of his pockets, so a struggle ensued, the police have said. Investigators determined that he shot himself with the revolver, which was found near his right hand. That raised suspicion among some observers because Curnell was left-handed.
A surveillance video also cut off just as the officer approached Curnell, prompting more questions, though authorities said the motion-activated camera had stopped recording as designed.
Dixon said such aspects of the case should have been more thoroughly examined.
“At the end of the day, that’s how trouble starts in a community,” he said. “She should have gotten deeper into that investigation.”
Also Thursday, four people from Black Lives Matter Charleston made requests to the North Charleston City Council at its night meeting.
The group asked for an emergency City Council meeting, but this time in a more reserved manner than they used weeks ago, when Muhiyidin D’baha and others interrupted a city news conference using a megaphone.
“A couple weeks ago we had an incident, and it shook the community,” D’baha said. “It shook us to our core and revealed something that we as a community know has been there for a very long time: abuse, harassment, terrorism of the police force upon our communities of color in North Charleston. We desperately, urgently need to have a conversation about how to heal that trust.”
He and the three others spoke quietly and calmly, often referring to notes.
D’baha also asked for a citizens review board or some other mechanism that would allow for some community oversight over the police force. He said if established, it would be a start to healing and establishing trust between law enforcement and the “community of color” in North Charleston.
“This is a desperate situation and I’m urging the council to consider opening a conversation,” he said. “The killing of Walter Scott and others are not the result of abnormal incidents resulting in accidents, nor do these killings reflect one bad-apple police officer. It is a manifestation of a system of policing that is unaccountable, out of control and acts from its worst impulses.”
Shanalea Forrest, also with Black Lives Matter, asked that police officers receive additional training in unarmed combat, conflict resolution and fighting racism. She suggested that the city implement field-contact cards that would record traffic stops and stops based on suspicion of criminal activity that would include race, age and gender of the person stopped, and details of the search, including the officer’s name.
Forrest said the public needs to be informed when complaints are filed against officers or when allegations of racial bias, civil actions and use of force are made.
“I am asking you please, for safety of all of our citizens, not just a select few ... please call the meeting,” Forrest said.