Missing minutes in surveillance, differing witness testimony stand out in SLED case file
Highlights from the 4-disc case file:
- Surveillance videos of the night of the shooting are missing five minutes when the shooting happened;
- Witness testimony from people at the apartment complex shows only one person claimed to see the shooting;
- Her testimony contradicts everything from EMS and fire personnel;
- Other witnesses were unclear on whether Curnell was on the ground or on his knees;
- SLED agents didn't arrive until 11:35 p.m.;
- Curnell's military personnel file shows he was only away from home about six weeks before being discharged for suicidal thoughts;
- There are two reports totaling 12 pages that have been completely redacted.
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Four DVDs containing nearly 300 pages of investigation notes and witness testimony were released Friday morning by state police in the shooting death of a Charleston teen.
The State Law Enforcement Division case file also include videos and photos from the June 20 incident outside the Bridgeview Apartments on Romney Street.
Among the video evidence collected by investigators is surveillance footage from cameras mounted outside the apartment complex.
However, the shooting of 19-year-old Denzell Curnell is not captured on the footage even though it is in the line of sight of at least one of the cameras. That's because five minutes of the footage is simply gone.
The apartment complex's manager had problems retrieving the footage on the night of the shooting, as did the company that manages the cameras when it tried to collect the missing video.
That means the only record of what happened to Curnell on June 20 would have to come from the officer at the center of the investigation, Jamal Medlin, and the witnesses -- most of whom didn't actually see the shooting.
The one person who told investigators she saw the entire ordeal tells a confusing, albeit brief, story.
The 21-year-old woman wrote in her statement she was dropping off her sister when she saw Curnell on the ground in front of the police car with his hands up. According to the female witness, the officer was about three feet away from Curnell.
"He shot him from the back and Jaba drop to the ground scratch out," she wrote. "When Jaba got shot, he was by the sidewalk next to police car on his back. When the police officer shot Jaba he felled (sic) on his back in the street by the sidewalk."
First responders from Charleston County EMS and Charleston Fire Department all came to the consensus that Curnell fell forward onto his stomach when he shot himself.
Statements from the EMTs say the gun Curnell had stolen from his stepfather's dresser was still in his right hand.
Other witnesses who did not see whether Curnell or the officer fired the shot also gave differing views of what happened and who was in what position.
Some witnesses depicted Curnell as on his knees while others said he was forced completely to a prone position. Some say the officer kicked Curnell; others didn't mention it in their statements to investigators.
Photos of Medlin taken about two hours after the shooting are unremarkable. There is no visible blood on his uniform or shoes.
There is perhaps a sign Curnell was on a downward slide that started in 2013.
The shooting happened a little more than six months after Curnell was discharged from the Army for "suicidal ideations" and depression attributed to separation from his family.
Curnell's first documented case of troubling thoughts came in November 2013, just a few weeks after he had enlisted in the Army and had been shipped off to basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.
His Army recruiter described Curnell as quiet and capable, a smart teen who would make a good soldier. Curnell's own one-line autobiography in his Army counseling support form went a small step beyond that.
"I am usually quiet and will do what is told but will snap when the moment arises," he wrote.
On Dec. 5, the process to remove Curnell from his military service was underway. Five days later, it was done and he was on his way back to the Lowcountry.
In interviews with investigators the week after Curnell died, his sister and brother said Curnell was planning to re-enlist. However, recruitment officers said Curnell had to wait six months before he could start the enlistment process again.
He had not done that at the time of his death.
Family members say they never knew Curnell to carry a firearm. But SLED would learn his stepfather did.
German's snub-nosed .38-caliber handgun and ammunition were kept in the bottom drawer of a dresser underneath a stack of folded clothes. As far as he knew, they were still there when SLED called him after the shooting and asked about the weapon.
That's when German realized the gun was gone. It was at least a day too late. Curnell had already had a confrontation with Medlin and shot himself in the head during the scuffle.
Curnell's sister says she talked to her teen brother earlier in the day and told him she was going to Bridgeview to see friends and family, adding it was a group with whom he did not communicate.
She said after the shooting she did not know why her teen brother was in the apartment complex.
But he was, dressed head to toe in black on an 85-degree Charleston night. His hoodie was pulled up and his hands were in his pockets, according to Medlin.
According to Medlin, he saw a "male figure, wearing all black with a hoodie pilled over his head, walking across the complex at a brisk pace toward Building 127." Because of the high temperatures that night, Medlin said he found it odd Curnell was wearing long sleeves and pants.
Medlin said he got out of his car and said "Hey man, can I holla at you?" but was met with a blank stare by the teen who the officer said kept his right hand inside his hoodie pocket.
"I immediately got a bad feeling and was fearful about the situation," Medlin said in the summary. "Therefore I withdrew my duty weapon (a Glock 21) and pointed it toward the victim."
After several verbal commands, Medlin said he grabbed Curnell by the back of the hoodie and tried to escort him to the officer's car for a pat down. That's when Medlin says Curnell struggled, got away from him, walked about three yards away and got on his knees with his right hand still inside the hoodie pocket.
Medlin said he approached the teen, got him down on the ground and got on top of him. He said the teen resisted and tried to turn over on his side to face the officer.
After Curnell stopped resisting, Medlin said he decided to re-holster his gun.
"Almost simultaneously, I felt the victim stop resisting," Medlin recalls. "As I looked back toward the victim, I heard him say '(expletive) it!'"
The summary continues to say Curnell made a "quick upward motion toward his head" with his right hand and Medlin "observed a flash and heard a loud bang."
Medlin ran for cover and called for backup.
The entire ordeal took about three minutes, none of which was captured on the apartment complex's security cameras.
At the time, Curnell was identified only as an unknown black male because he was not carrying identification. Investigators identified him as Curnell through his cellphone, which they found while searching his body.
Officers also found several bullets in his hoodie.
SLED agents got a search warrant for German's home, but German said in the hours before agents arrived, Curnell's brother and sister went through the dead teen's room. He said they took things, but he didn't know what, according to the report.
SLED agents took a laptop and a cellphone from Curnell's room. Details on what were on the devices was not included in the report.
Included in the release are two reports, one from the ATF and another unknown report. The ATF report appears to be a firearm trace report backtracking the history of the gun Curnell was carrying. Only the cover page is visible; the over 7 pages are completely redacted.
The other report is completely blacked out, shielding even the focus of the report or information on the reporting agency.
Andy Savage, the Curnell family attorney, said Friday he had not yet received the case file from SLED, but added he would fully review it and decide what steps to take next.
In the days after Curnell's death, members of the local NAACP chapter called for answers. Chapter president Dot Scott demanded to know why another black teen was dead at the hand of an officer.
Since his death was ruled a suicide, NAACP leaders have remained quiet.
That will change Monday morning when officials address the investigation efforts of Charleston police and SLED agents.