Akiel Denkins pulled a handgun from his waistband just before a Raleigh police officer shot and killed him this week, according to a report from police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown.
Denkins, 24, was shot and killed early Monday afternoon by Officer D.C. Twiddy after Twiddy attempted to arrest him on an outstanding felony drug charge. Police and witnesses agree that Twiddy spotted Denkins outside PJ’s Grill & Groceries on East Bragg Street, just south of downtown, and that Denkins ran with Twiddy in pursuit.
The report from Deck-Brown, released late Thursday, says Twiddy caught up with Denkins behind a house on South East Street and grabbed him. As the two struggled, Twiddy says he saw Denkins pull a handgun from the front of his waistband and “begin to move it toward Officer Twiddy.”
“While still struggling with Mr. Denkins, Officer Twiddy drew his duty weapon and fired multiple shots as Mr. Denkins continued to move the firearm in his direction,” the report says. “After the first shots were fired, Officer Twiddy felt Mr. Denkins’ hand or arm make contact with his duty weapon. Officer Twiddy, fearing that Mr. Denkins was either going to shoot him or attempt to take his duty weapon, stepped back and fired additional shots at Mr. Denkins, who still had the firearm in his hand.”
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The report contradicts accounts from witnesses who have said Denkins was unarmed and that Twiddy shot him in the back as he fled. Reaction to the report on East Bragg Street on Thursday ranged from shock to disbelief.
M.M. Johnson, who had coached Denkins in basketball, said he talked to about 10 to 20 people who were on East Bragg Street the day Denkins was shot.
“They said he took off running,” Johnson said. “Everybody that was standing out there was talking about it. Ain’t nobody said nothing about a struggle. They said he took off running and the police officer fell and started busting (shooting) because he couldn’t catch him.”
The report says that Raleigh police and the SBI have canvassed the neighborhood looking for witnesses. It says that while several have reported seeing the beginning of the foot chase and to hearing the gunshots, no one has yet said they saw the final encounter between Denkins and Twiddy.
Twiddy, 29, has been placed on administrative duty pending investigations by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Raleigh Police Department’s internal affairs office. The SBI will provide its findings to the Wake County District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether any criminal charges are warranted.
City Manager Ruffin Hall stressed that the chief’s report is not the end of the inquiry.
“The information we have today is not the complete story and only the beginning of the investigation,” Hall said. “The city is focused on being open and transparent. As Chief Deck-Brown indicated on Monday afternoon, we pledged to share information with the public as it became available. We have done that.”
Also Thursday, a preliminary autopsy showed that Denkins suffered four gunshot wounds, including one in the chest. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman released the preliminary autopsy results and said Denkins was hit on the right side of his chest, injuring his heart and both lungs. The other wounds were on his left forearm, right upper arm and right shoulder, Freeman said.
It’s not clear if any of the shots hit Denkins from behind.
“That is information that the state medical examiner has not authorized for release,” Freeman said.
Freeman said the preliminary autopsy results are “one piece of information in the investigation” and that the SBI continues to gather more.
“A thorough investigation takes time, and I continue to urge the community for its patience as we continue,” she said.
Freeman said she had shared findings with Denkins’ mother, Rolanda Byrd, earlier in the week. She said Byrd’s primary concerns were those of a mother, wanting to know the extent of her son’s injuries and suffering before his death.
The Raleigh police union says Twiddy has told his lawyer that he fired in self-defense. Deck-Brown said on the day of the shooting that a gun was found “in close proximity” to Denkins’ body, behind a house on South East Street.
Deck-Brown’s report Thursday says the handgun Denkins was carrying had been reported stolen on Jan. 31. It says the SBI collected evidence from the scene and that any fingerprints, DNA or other evidence recovered from the gun will be given to the district attorney’s office along with the findings of its investigation.
The report says Twiddy’s patrol car was equipped with a dashboard video recorder but that it was not turned on because he had not activated his blue lights, which trigger the camera. The video might have shown the initial part of the foot chase.
Freeman said investigators do not have any other video of what happened either and encourage anyone who videotaped the incident to share what they have.
Joe Jabari, who owns the building that houses PJ’s Grill & Groceries, said he heard from a lot of people that Twiddy shot Denkins in the back. Jabari said he was “absolutely shocked” to hear about Deck-Brown’s report.
“This kid came to me many times, saying, ‘I wish I didn’t have a felony charge because I need to change,’ ” he said. “He was trying, honest to God he was trying. That day, I don’t know what happened. I’m not defending nobody, but some of these kids feel like they have no choice.”