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Comment Archives: Stories: News+Opinion: Haire of the Dog

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

No, and nobody is saying that probable cause is needed to talk to someone. That's fine. But it was Curnell's right to choose not to speak to him.

Probable cause is also not needed to ask someone to take their hands out of their pockets. That's also fine. But it was Curnell's right to choose not to comply.

My point is that the mere fact of exercising a few of his basic rights as a free citizen should not have escalated the situation in the officer's mind. The simple assertion of his own constitutional rights prompted the officer to get violent - and that is a problem, regardless of whether the officer turned out to be right on his contraband hunch or not.

If Curnell had not encountered Medlin and had gone on to, perhaps, CONTINUE to not do anything violent, then he wouldn't be DEAD.

Your statement on the NAACP is irrelevant. Black on black crime, like all citizen on citizen crime, is a problem and one that they speak to on a pretty regular basis. It's a sad reality and one that is both unavoidable and unfixable in the short term. POLICE on black crime, however, shouldn't happen ever, at all, right now - and this situation smells really bad. I don't believe it's the officer's individual fault, I think it's a cultural problem and one that is tremendously exacerbated by the ease and widespread prevalence and social approval of firearms combined with a racial compartmentalization that makes young black males automatically suspicious and easy to think of as "enemies."

Posted by HappyPessimist on July 18, 2014 at 9:18 AM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

Probable cause is not needed for a policeman to speak to someone, for whatever reason.

Once Curnell refused to take his hands out of his pocket, he escalated the situation.

Sadly, if Curnell had not encountered Medlin and had gone on to, perhaps, fatally shoot another black male with the stolen firearm he was unlawfully concealing, there would have been nearly zero interest in this from the NAACP or "black community leaders." You KNOW that's true.

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Posted by Cid95 on July 18, 2014 at 2:41 AM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

Such great detail from someone who was not there? Could pass for rabble rousing and sure hope no one gets hurt because of it.

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Posted by Streetlaw on July 18, 2014 at 1:52 AM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

Officer Medlin didn't know Curnell, so the "distant look" in Curnell's eyes wasn't familiar to him. As far as he knew, it could've been the look of someone working up the nerve to shoot or rob someone. In this case, it was the look of someone contemplating suicide, but Medlin wouldn't have any way of knowing that. If an officer approaches someone that is visibly disturbed in some way, and that person may have their hand on a weapon (which Curnell apparently did), of course that officer's going to look out for his own safety. Suppose Medlin had been dealing with someone exhibiting the same demeanor as Curnell, but was far more nefarious with intentions of harming Medlin or someone else. Is Medlin just supposed to walk up to the guy and get shot? Medlin suspected Curnell might have had a weapon, and it turned out Medlin was right. And with Curnell standing there, his HAND ON THE GUN IN HIS POCKET and figuring Medlin was about to find it, does no one here believe at least the thought of using it on Medlin didn't cross his mind? Maybe Medlin getting his gun out first prevented that.

I'm sure Medlin doesn't draw his gun every time he approaches someone wearing a hoodie in Bridgeview, so something about Curnell's actions and mannerisms alarmed him. Medlin listened to his senses. It's not his fault Curnell chose to take his own life as a result.

As for the hoodie, no, it's not normal to wear that when it's 85 degrees outside, especially with the hood up. I'd be willing to bet that Curnell was the only person Medlin saw wearing one all night. Suppose someone else walked by wearing a hoodie with their face hidden under it that night. Suppose that person went on to rob someone a few minutes later. Don't you think Medlin would then be getting questioned on why he didn't check that person out when he first saw him? Did he profile him based on the hoodie? Yes. Did Curnell stand out because he was wearing one? Yes. Is that illegal? No, but it's also not illegal for the police to notice it when it seems out of place. Did Medlin profile him based on race? Doesn't seem like it; I don't see how you can possibly profile someone for being black in a neighborhood where everyone else is. Curnell's race didn't raise suspicion, his clothing, demeanor and mannerisms did. Those are on him, not Medlin.

And one more thing for the few folks that suspect some type of conspiracy based on left-handed Curnell using his right hand to fire the gun. The Army may have trained him to shoot right handed if he was right eye dominant.

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Posted by Paulius on July 18, 2014 at 12:03 AM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

I am not suggesting that the officer should not have tried to chat with Curnell. I am suggesting that a "distant" look in someone's eyes (which is SUCH a subjective descriptor - let's replace it with "pensive" and see if the situation changes) might raise suspicions but it should not be used as probable cause. He can ask him to take his hands out of his pockets and I understand suspicions being raised even more when he doesn't - but that's STILL not probable cause.

At that point, yes, ideally he should have gone back to his car and called for backup. It was not an emergency and even if he felt threatened it was clear he wasn't in immediate danger. Then he could have made it clear to Curnell that while he was in the neighborhood he was going to have some company, stayed close, and kept an eye on him.

Or any number of other hopefully non-violent and non-confrontational options. Instead he chose to draw a weapon, forcibly detain, and subsequently tackle someone who had not broken (to his knowledge) or was in the process of breaking any laws - all on the basis of vague suspicion.

I understand and can respect the opinion that sees this situation, and the fact that he did have the gun as validation of the officer's suspicions. However the unavoidable corollary to that opinion is that the officer was also very wrong on the kid's intention to use the weapon on him. And now the kid is dead. It's not the officer's fault, but he had as many options as he wanted, and he chose the most violent semi-legal option available to him.

It's that fact, that there were still so many unknown circumstances and the fact that Curnell was only appearing to be suspicious and had not broken any laws that lead me to conclude that the officer should have acted with more caution and more restraint, because that's how I want police to treat me if I happen to be wearing a hoodie and not in the mood for conversation.

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Posted by HappyPessimist on July 17, 2014 at 4:32 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

I appreciate your opinion. And I fully acknowledge that a police officer is held to a higher standard than a criminal. But again, his job is to identify suspicious individuals in the area. That's the definition of this particular off-duty security position. It wasn't only the clothing that raised his suspicions. If you are a law enforcement officer (LEO) and you approach someone originally just to chat (as is his right and duty in his position) and that person responds by turning to you, acknowledging you, but refusing to speak to you or take his hand out of his pocket , then you will naturally feel threatened. "The manner in which he was concealing his hand" was what made the officer reach for his own weapon in self defense.

Are you suggesting the LEO should never have tried to chat with Curnell in the first place? In that case, he wouldn't be doing his job. Or should he have returned to his car when Curnell wouldn't speak to him?
Officers are supposed to, by law, stop and question someone when they have reasonable suspicion that they have committed or are about to commit a crime. Let's see, he was acting strangely by his movements and the distant look on his face, refused to speak with an officer, was wearing clothing inappropriate for the weather, was lurking around a neighborhood he didn't live in; a known, high violent crime neighborhood, with one hand concealing something in his pocket. To me, that is enough suspicion to approach him. And as it turns out, he was 100% correct - he was in the process of committing a crime - he was carrying a stolen weapon.

Officers must have the freedom to use their best judgement in these cases. Do some take that too far? Sure. I'm certain some do. Working with aggressive individuals can often make you aggressive as well in order to deal with it. They have to learn to put feelings and ego aside. But I haven't read anything in this case, from either side, that suggests the officer involved did ANYTHING wrong. This young man was troubled and yes, perhaps the stop from the officer caused his emotions to escalate and make the horrible decision he made (we don't know how it would have ended otherwise) but there was no way the officer could have known that. He did his job.

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Posted by HOBYCAT on July 17, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

The officer can ask and request, nobody is debating that.

Curnell has every right as a citizen to refuse those requests without probable cause - and wearing out-of-season clothing isn't probable cause for anybody but black people. That's the point. He refused, as was his right to do, and the officer pointed a gun at his face. The introduction of the firearm is the escalation.

The people you want us to get outraged over for their heinous acts are criminals. This person is a police officer. Criminals are supposed to do criminal things. That is how we expect criminals to act. They also act of their own accord; we do not set guidelines for how they should conduct themselves. There is no constitutional amendment for how a burglar should behave during a robbery.

We do have those for the police. It's not an easy balance to achieve on a stressful and deadly job - I'm not trying to put all the blame at this officer's feet. I think that the end result of this whole sad situation is a clash of lots of things that didn't have to happen from both of these individuals. But it shouldn't be ignored that just because he ended up actually having contraband it doesn't make it ok for a police officer to instigate a violent confrontation with a law abiding citizen, whether they look suspicious or not.

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Posted by HappyPessimist on July 17, 2014 at 3:25 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

The 'hoody' is not the exact issue of why he was stopped. The media LOVES to harp on this to try to make it a race issue (even though the cop was not white himself). He was wearing unusual clothing for the weather. Clothes that can easily conceal a weapon. He was in a high crime neighborhood. And yes, if you'd like to include race, then who commits the majority of violent crimes in those neighborhoods? Young black males.
Curnell then turned to him with a far away look in his eyes (yes, according to the cop, but now that we all know the depression he suffered from, doesn't that make sense?) and kept his hand in his pocket. He refused to take his hand out of his pocket when asked. A cop does not need a warrant to ask you if he can speak with you and to request you show him your hands in order for the officer to feel safe. Curnell escalated the situation by not complying. It was an extremely tragic situation that followed.

They hired the cop to do a certain security job - that is, to identify suspicious individuals and help to deter or prevent crime. He was working in a well known high crime neighborhood. Using his law enforcement experience, he felt this person was suspicious. Arm chair quarterbacking, that could be looked at as either the right or wrong decision, but none of us were there to know for sure. He did his job. A high stress, low paying, extremely dangerous job where you have to make split decisions to maintain the peace and get yourself and everyone else home safely.

But once again, I ask why the media is producing so many articles about this particular case when there have been at least 10 since then that barely get more than 2 lines and are certainly more the "norm" for the area of North Charleston in particular. Where is the outrage and concern for the families of the victims over those crimes?

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Posted by HOBYCAT on July 17, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

Drones Make It Easier To Kill Terrorists.

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Posted by zee on July 17, 2014 at 2:48 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

That's true. I hate colonialistism.

edit: but I'm all for government coffins and socialized funeral services.

1 of 2 people like this.
Posted by HappyPessimist on July 17, 2014 at 2:11 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

Happy,

It's as simple as this:

White Paranoia About Kenyan Anti-Colonialists Ordering FEMA Coffins > Black Paranoia About Police Targeting Black Males and Conducting Stop-and-Frisk Searches

The problem is, one of the fears is justified, the other is not.

2 of 4 people like this.
Posted by chrishaire on July 17, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

It's so hard to be figurative on the internet. Sorry you didn't actually find someone wearing a hoodie downtown today. I can assure you that they're common, which is what I was meaning to illustrate.

I'm a sane person with the usual amount of depression and no suicidal thoughts. I have every right to and would refuse a search and seizure request without a warrant or explicit statement of probable cause. Luckily, I'm a white guy so I don't generally get hassled or have police guns in my face when I'm minding my own business, suspiciously or not.

That's kind of the point - it seems like race baiting to people who aren't getting the police guns in their face. Of course it seems reasonable - the kid had a gun and mental problems. SLED isn't investigating, the mayor isn't commenting on, and the newspapers aren't harping on all the stop and frisks for the kids who DON'T get shot by police because they didn't have a gun or mental problems. That's why this seems like an isolated incident to you - it's confirmation bias. If it regularly happened *without justification* to you or to people you know then you would be... Dot Scott.

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Posted by HappyPessimist on July 17, 2014 at 1:49 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

Ima,

I'll check with Paul to see if he has the report. UPDATE: Thom Berry of SLED is still working on the report. It has not been released.

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Posted by chrishaire on July 17, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

OK, Haire, SLED released their 180 page report about the incident, Now it's Dot Scott's turn (and yours) to release your share of the evidence.

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Posted by Ima Oldman on July 17, 2014 at 1:15 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

I see alot of what if's here in this conversation, is it better to error on the side of caution yes, no one is discussing Curnells state of mind. He has a record of being sucidial that has been established, people want to cast dispesion because of his race maybe the long and short of it he was mentaly unstable. What sane person would not yeild to a police officer if they had nothing to hide no one I know. I don't think color is an issuse here of course the race baiters want to make it an issuse to line their pockets. BTW they gentleman who stated "There are kids wearing hoodies everywhere! I could go take a drive downtown, at noon today" I was downtown for 2 hours toady didn't see one hoodie, go figure.

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Posted by puterputzs on July 17, 2014 at 12:53 PM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

HOBYCAT,

A cop is always a cop. He was in a police uniform, driving a police car, and brandishing a police issued weapon. Hence he was a cop.

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Posted by chrishaire on July 17, 2014 at 11:31 AM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

Sure HOBYCAT, maybe Curnell was on his way to kill someone. Also maybe, he found his stepfather's gun and was on his way to return it. He could have taken it to kill himself and realized he made a bad decision and was walking it off. Maybe maybe maybe.

For sure, he can know that he had a gun that wasn't his and that he did not intend to use it against the officer. We know this because he used it on himself in a violent confrontation that was instigated by the police.

There are kids wearing hoodies everywhere! I could go take a drive downtown, at noon today, in the middle of July, and not have to look hard for "suspicious" individuals. Are the police threatening all of them with deadly force if they refuse to comply with requests that they are not legally required to comply with? The answer is likely "more than you should be comfortable with in a 'free' society."

I'm not arguing for public execution of the officer but if it doesn't bother you that this kid got randomly stopped on the street for no reason except wearing the same hoodie everybody else freaking wears and then had a gun pointed at him because he didn't thank the officer for the privilege, then we're already pretty far down a disconcerting road.

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Posted by HappyPessimist on July 17, 2014 at 11:09 AM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

At the time of this incident the officer was working an off-duty assignment. That means the officer was an employee of Bridgeview Village Apartments (formerly Bayside Manor) and as such was obligated by their policies to weed out those who don’t belong in that neighborhood. That is what he was doing when he noticed Curnell behaving suspiciously. He is not violating anybody's rights by asking to speak with them. Then when Curnell continued to not speak with him and keep his hand hidden, the officer had every right to feel uncomfortable and ask to see his hands. Wouldn't you?
Here’s something to think about – it could be possible Curnell was carrying that firearm to take out someone he perceived as a problem. Maybe the officer saved someone else’s life, or lives, by trying to have a chat with Curnell.

Chief Mullen pointed out that the officer was doing his job – the job Dot Scott demanded be done – and checking out suspicious folks in one of Charleston’s high crime, high violence, drug infested housing projects. If the officer had just sat and waited for Curnell to actually have used that gun - whether on someone else or even on himself, and sat back in his vehicle and done nothing there would have been outrage! So law enforcement is damned if you do, damned if you don't. They are asked to step up and protect these neighborhoods but condemned when they try to do their job and stop violence before it escalates.

You know, with all this media attention being given to this case the media has managed to skirt the issue of violence in the black community yet again. It seems there was a home invasion this past weekend in which, a young black female, mother and soon to be bride was killed when she was shot multiple times. A male in the home was also wounded by gunfire. Has the NAACP spoken out about that? Nope. Have they or the media spoken out about the murder of black convict Samuel Coardes by black drug dealer Tyrone Penn? Nope. Just two of way too many examples of the black on black violence in this city.

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Posted by HOBYCAT on July 17, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

Appreciate your response, Chris. There was a good segment on NPR this week on the merits of the stop and frisk laws that were abandoned in NY. I wonder if there is a way to protect 4th and 5th amendments while allowing reasonable interactions between police and civilians? It really depends on the end game and what the intentions are of the individual officer. Is it ok for an officer to detain someone for loitering or not walking in a straight line? At what point does someone's behavior rise to the level of reasonable suspicion of being a danger to themselves or someone else? What if someone is wearing a trench coat in the July in Charleston on their way into movie theatre, and he had been pacing back and forth up and down the street? Would it then be ok to approach them and request they keep their hands out of their pockets if they are appear extremely alarmed? Shouldn't the police be able to use some judgement and common sense? I like to think about this, keep an open mind, and appreciate other perspectives. I think the fact he had a gun, the officers suspicions were correct, he didn't use deadly force, support a reasonable approach.

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Posted by John Cecil on July 17, 2014 at 8:55 AM

Re: “How one officer's aggression led to the death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell

John,

The point here is that the officer didn't witness a crime, a crime wasn't reported that he was responding to, and he didn't suspect Denzel Curnell of having committed. The 4th and 5th amendments must take precedence here in these matters. The officer had no legal right to detain Curnell — regardless of whether or not his suspicions were confirmed, which is certainly up for debate — and Curnell had ever legal right not to respond, not to pull his hand out of his pocket, and to turn around and walk away. These laws here is designed to protect us; however, it seems that the public is far to willing to give up their 4th and 5th amendment rights in the name of public safety. The most important parts of the Bill of Rights are slowly being chipped away by fear.

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Posted by chrishaire on July 17, 2014 at 8:35 AM
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