Chief: Scuffle preceded fatal shooting at Bridgeview

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Hours after the solicitor's office said the officer present at the time of Denzell Curnell's death should not face charges, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Mayor Joe Riley revealed more details about the night Curnell died.According to Mullen, the officer patrolling the Bridgeview Apartments saw Curnell near one of the buildings and approached him to find out if Curnell was a resident, a guest, or someone who should not be on the property. Loitering is illegal at Bridgeview Apartments, located on private property.Mullen said Curnell did not stop when asked, and would not pull his hand out of his jacket pocket. Mullen said the officer repeatedly tried to communicate with Curnell and pulled his weapon when the teen would not take his hand out of his pocket.That's when a scuffle ensued and the officer took Curnell to the ground, Mullen said.While the officer was holstering his weapon, Curnell shot himself, according to Mullen. When Curnell fired the shot, the officer pulled back and called for assistance and EMS.By the time they arrived, Curnell was dead.In the wake of the shooting, police turned over the investigation to the State Law Enforcement Division and have remained largely silent on the matter waiting on the investigation to unfold.Mullen said he thought the silence was for the best."We wanted to find out exactly what happened that evening and didn't want to jump to conclusions," he said, adding that SLED had also asked Charleston police to refrain from releasing any information on the case. "The thing that has been of paramount importance for this agency and for me personally was to find out exactly what happened."Mullen said the weeks since Curnell's shooting have been difficult for everyone involved. Rumors and speculation made the difficult situation worse, he said."Our integrity is our foundation. We will find the truth and we will act on the truth no matter what that is," Mullen said.On Monday morning, the Ninth Circuit Solicitor's Office said it had reviewed all the findings in the investigation and found that Curnell shot and killed himself."I have reviewed the report and based on everything that you provided, it is clear to me that Mr. Curnell committed suicide. The fact that Mr. Curnell suffered from depression and died in the prime of his life is nothing short of tragic," said Solicitor Scarlett Wilson in the release.According to Wilson, the three witnesses who claimed to have seen the police officer shoot Curnell are wrong based on where the wound is on Curnell as reported by EMS. She also said one of the witnesses was a juvenile. Wilson said Curnell's weapon fired the only shot. The officer's weapon was never fired, Wilson said."Only Mr. Curnell's DNA was found on his revolver. The SLED findings of gunshot residue on Mr. Curnell and the absence of such on Officer Medlin likewise do not support these witness' claims," she said.Wilson went on to say the officer should not face criminal charged and said the solicitor's office would not seek an indictment against him.She said she met with Curnell's stepfather and brother, accompanied by their attorney Andy Savage, and Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten Monday morning."They're heartbroken. They lost Denzell's mother in the last year. They had Denzell being discharged from the military and now lost him. You couple with that, suicide period is hard for a family to grasp and then you have a situation where it takes a while for the facts to come out. I'm sure they've been beside themselves. But they were courteous and listened. We assured them they will get a copy of everything I have," Wilson said.She did not know whether the family still planned to pursue its own investigation. She also said the SLED investigation revealed the gun used by Curnell was stolen from his stepfather.The announcement comes before SLED finalized its investigation into the shooting death of Curnell, but officials at the state agency said they expected their investigation to wrap up this week.On Monday, residents in the Bridgeview community where the shooting happened said they did not think Curnell committed suicide. One resident asked why he would have gone to the apartment complex to kill himself.Early in the investigation, officials have worked to clarify information that was being spread by social media about the shooting. Coroner Rae Wooten said Curnell had been shot once in the head. He had not been shot in the back, she said in an attempt to "clarify misinformation or misconceptions."Curnell's family was being represented by Andy Savage. In the weeks since the shooting, he has called for more information to be released by police on the shooting."What's the examination of the residue on the hands of the deceased? On the hands of the officer involved?" he asked. "What will that tell us? What is the analysis of the weapon used? Whose was it? Under what circumstances was it fired? I think the best thing to do is remain calm, not get all emotional, and see what the facts are and proceed accordingly."But police have maintained since the beginning that the officer did not fire his gun. Police Chief Greg Mullen said repeatedly there is no evidence his officer fired a weapon during the incident.He also said Curnell was armed. There were reports on social media that Curnell was unarmed.SLED took over the investigation about an hour after it happened.The local chapter of the NAACP also moved in, calling for answers and wanting to know why a black teen was killed by a police officer."Right now, we are in the stance of finding out more information," she said. "What exactly happened and why do we have another young African American male killed at the hands of a police officer?"The officer was not injured, SLED officials said. Police said the officer had been placed on administrative duties until SLED completed its investigation.Mullen said Monday the officer was "doing quite well" and described him as "a real trooper." Mullen said the officer would likely return to active duty Tuesday or Wednesday.