CHARLESTON — A private forensic pathologist thinks a 19-year-old Charleston man didn’t commit suicide as he struggled with a Charleston police officer, but was accidentally shot with his own gun instead.
Dr. Werner Spitz reviewed the autopsy of Denzel Curnell at the request of a lawyer working to help Curnell’s family.
A 3-inch bruise on the teen’s right arm leads him to believe that Curnell did not have the gun to his head when it fired on June 20, killing him, Spitz told The Post and Courier of Charleston. In his long career, Spitz has reviewed the autopsies of President John Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The findings and other possible problems with the investigation have led the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.
Curnell was walking around his apartment complex when Charleston police officer Jamal Medlin stopped him because he was wearing a hooded sweat shirt and acting suspiciously on an 85-degree night. The officer said Curnell refused to take his right arm out of his pocket, so he wrestled the teen to the ground.
The officer said when he looked away, he heard a gunshot and saw Curnell was wounded. The S.C. State Law Enforcement Division investigated the shooting, and prosecutor Scarlett Wilson agreed with their findings that Curnell shot himself.
But Andy Savage, an attorney helping Curnell’s family, said investigators thought it was a suicide from the beginning and didn’t properly investigate.
It took more than two hours to test the officer’s hands for gunshot residue, and the clothes Medlin was wearing that night were not collected to be tested, Savage said,
Wilson referred questions about the autopsy to the pathologist who conducted the examination for the state. Dr. Nicholas Batalis said he is barred by state law from talking about an autopsy report.
A spokesman for SLED said it would be next week before the agency would talk about its investigation.
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