An angry, anxious crowd gathered at the scene of a police shooting just south of downtown Monday evening, decrying police violence against African-Americans, but the gathering remained peaceful.
More than 300 people stood outside of PJ’s Grill & Groceries on Bragg Street, where shortly after noon police were trying to arrest a black man on a felony drug charge when an officer shot him, said Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown. Speaking at an afternoon press conference, Deck-Brown did not provide many details, saying only that the officer was chasing the man on foot when the man “was shot and killed by the officer.”
After the shooting, Deck-Brown said, “a firearm was located within close proximity of the deceased suspect.”
“Our thoughts and our prayers go out to all involved in today’s incident,” she said. “I ask everyone to please be patient while the follow-up investigations are conducted to determine the facts about what happened today.”
Late Monday, Raleigh police identified the officer as Senior Officer D.C. Twiddy, 29. A police department statement said he has been employed since November 2009 and is assigned to the Field Operations Division. “In accordance with departmental policy, Officer Twiddy has been placed on administrative duty pending the completion of the investigation by the State Bureau Investigation,” the statement said.
Deck-Brown did not name the suspect Twiddy shot. But Rolanda Byrd said she received a call from her cousin who told her that a police officer had shot and killed her 24-year-old son, Akiel Denkins. She said the cousin told her Denkins was shot in the back while he was running away from the officer.
Byrd said when she arrived on Bragg Street she learned that her son’s body was behind PJ’s Grill & Groceries. She said “four or five people” told her Denkins was unarmed and running from police when “he was shot seven times by a white officer with a bald head.”
Truvalia Kearney of Zebulon said she was visiting someone in the neighborhood and was standing near Denkins in front of the store when a police car pulled up. Denkins, Kearney said, “took off running” behind the store and jumped a chain-link fence into the backyard of a house on East Street.
“The officer jumped the fence and fell down,” she said in an interview. “He pulled his gun out and started shooting. He (Denkins) got shot in the back.”
Kearney disputed police reports that Denkins was armed. “That’s a lie because I (saw) it,” she said. “If he had a gun, he didn’t pull it out.”
Louis Rodriguez said he was up on a ladder putting vinyl siding on a home on nearby Garner Road when he heard the commotion.
“I heard somebody say, ‘Stop, stop,’ then I heard, like, six shots,” Rodriguez said. “Then I heard the screams. Man, it was loud.”
More than 100 people gathered on East Bragg Street near the front of the store as the body was still lying on the ground. Some of the crowd members encircled Chris Jones, pastor of nearby The Ship of Zion Church, as he said a prayer for the family.
“No matter what anyone else thinks, they loved him,” Jones prayed. “Lord, you know what happened out here today.”
To which somebody in the crowd responded, “Yeah, they killing us.”
Jones later said he didn’t understand why police felt the need to shoot Denkins.
“I see him out here every day,” he said. “If he ran from you today, you could have arrested him tomorrow.”
Although Denkins had over a dozen arrests, he has three misdeameanor criminal convictions. Many of his arrests resulted in cases being dismissed in court.
Denkins was arrested in October and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it, according to court records. He was charged with failing to show up for court in the case on Feb. 2.
Byrd said Denkins was the father of two sons and had celebrated his birthday Feb. 8. Sean Dailey, Akiel Denkins’ father, said the coroner moved his son’s body at about 3:45 p.m.
“I got kids at home who I got to tell what happened to their big brother,” Dailey said.
Police took down the crime tape that had circled the grocery at about 4:45 p.m. A crowd that had gathered on Bragg Street surged forward and went behind the store, clambering along the chain-link fence to see where the shooting took place.
The crowd grew by evening for a candlelight vigil in front of the grocery, which drew speakers from several churches and organizations. John Blaylock of a group called Justice Served North Carolina said the shooting was emblematic of how police view young men in the community as “urban predators.” He called for a civilian police review board and for police to be equipped with body cameras, something the Raleigh department is considering.
“If the police officer was wearing a body camera, we could have seen what happened,” Blaylock said.
The State Bureau of Investigation will investigate the shooting, as will the Raleigh Police Department’s internal affairs office. The SBI will report its findings to the Wake County District Attorney’s Office. Deck-Brown said she will provide a written report about the shooting to the City Council within five days.
Lorrin Freeman, the Wake County district attorney, said she contacted the SBI at 12:30 p.m. Monday after being informed of the fatal shooting. In a statement, she said she asked the SBI to go to the scene immediately and begin a thorough investigation and said that the Raleigh Police Department was cooperating.
“As information becomes verified and available, we will release it to the public,” Freeman said. “We ask for people’s patience as we work to ensure that this investigation is thorough and complete.”
Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed.