Prosecutor: White officer shot black man in self-defense

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A white North Carolina officer acted in self-defense and won’t face charges for shooting a black man in a case that sparked outcry in his predominantly black neighborhood, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Police have said previously that 24-year-old Akiel Denkins pulled out a gun and reached for Officer D.C. Twiddy’s weapon before the officer shot and killed him in late February. Twiddy was trying to arrest Denkins after he failed to appear in court on felony charges related to selling cocaine.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman concluded that Twiddy shouldn’t face criminal charges after reviewing evidence that included DNA matches for Denkins on the officer’s gun and on the revolver that police said he pulled from his waistband. Freeman said in a news release that Twiddy shot Denkins “as a matter of last resort and only because he reasonably believed his own life was in danger.”

Forensic evidence also shows at least two of the four shots that hit Denkins entered the front of his body and traveled backward.

Many in the neighborhood where Denkins was shot expressed anger over the shooting, which followed other high-profile police shootings and a national debate over how officers treat black men.

Twiddy told investigators he knew about the warrant for Denkins and pursued him on foot after seeing him in the neighborhood of modest houses south of downtown, authorities said.

Freeman’s report offers new details on the struggle after Twiddy caught up. Twiddy said Denkins refused an order to drop the revolver he pulled out, so the officer fired his first two shots. It was then that Denkins grabbed the barrel of Twiddy’s gun, and the officer fired more shots while backing away until Denkins hit the ground, the report said.

Skin cell swabs uncovered DNA matching Denkins on both the barrel of Twiddy’s firearm and the revolver found near his body, Freeman said. The officer’s DNA wasn’t found on the latter firearm. There’s no indication that Denkins fired shots, while evidence shows Twiddy fired seven times.

Neighborhood residents voiced anger at rallies and community meetings in the days after the shooting. One witness who saw the altercation develop — but not the fatal shots — told The Associated Press she believed Denkins was shot in the back, a contention repeated by others.

Freeman didn’t address those claims directly, but referred to specific evidence that appears to rebut their belief.

Freeman wrote that Denkins fell forward onto his stomach after he was shot. Preliminary autopsy results showed two bullets traveled from the front of his body toward the back after striking his right arm and near his armpit. No direction was given for a shot that went through his left arm. A fourth bullet hit him near the top of his right shoulder and “traveled from back to front” before lodging in his clavicle.

The doctor who performed the autopsy and the state’s chief medical examiner both told investigators that the wounds were consistent with Twiddy’s account. A toxicology report indicated cocaine in Denkins’ system.

Investigators interviewed around 30 civilian witnesses, with nearly all saying they saw the chase begin or heard the multiple gunshots. Only two said they saw Twiddy fire his weapon, but other witnesses and crime scene evidence contradicted them. Freeman didn’t elaborate on their account of the fatal shots.

Lawyers assisting Denkins’ family had vowed to interview witnesses as part of their own review of the case. Freeman wrote that she met with the family’s attorneys this month and asked if they had additional evidence. She said investigators know of no witnesses who have come forward but haven’t yet been interviewed.

An attorney for the family, Priscilla McKoy, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

More than 200 people crammed into a church in March to mourn Denkins, including the Raleigh mayor and the head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. People who knew Denkins have said he was a friendly young man who wanted to earn a high school equivalency degree and become a carpenter to support his two young children.