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Government

Charleston Police Pledge Better Equipment, More Training in Aftermath of West Side Shooting

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Kyle Vass
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt speaks before a meeting of the city council.

Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt has responded to a letter from Mayor Amy Goodwin calling for more non-lethal weapons and training programs for the city’s police force. The mayor’s letter came days after Charleston Police officers shot Denaul Dickerson, a Black man, on Charleston’s West Side who officials say was brandishing a knife.

Chief Hunt’s newly announced plan included refitting the department's shotguns to use non-lethal ammunition, and purchasing improved Tasers for officers to carry. Amid these changes, Dickerson and his family have said they plan on suing the city of Charleston in civil court.

Sitting on a park bench in South Charleston, Nicole Reinhardt said last winter, when she met Dickerson, her boyfriend, she was experiencing homelessness. And he helped her out.

“One night, he just offered me a place to stay. And I didn’t hesitate at all. As soon as I went into his house, or where he was staying, I literally, within 15 minutes, I was out. I was so tired from having to, like, sleep with one eye open all the time.”

Reinhardt said Dickerson’s generosity and kindness helped her feel safe at a difficult time in her life. Dickerson’s sister, Keyona Dickerson, who was sitting next to Reinhardt as she spoke, nodded her head in agreement, adding, “Yeah, that's just how he was raised like that, to help others. You know, you got to help people, you know.”

Keyona Dickerson continued. “I understand her homelessness, you know, people have been homeless, we've been––I've been homeless, I mean, things happen, you know, to good people. But, this is out of control. You know, things is out of control right now.”

The two women said they are still trying to process what happened to Dickerson. About a month earlier, Dickerson was shot by police on Charleston’s West Side.

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Kyle Vass
Denaul Dickerson was shot by Charleston Police after he threatened them publicly with a knife. Police had trouble locating Tasers. The incident has led to policing reforms.

Body-worn camera footage from the incident shows Dickerson holding a knife and yelling for police to kill him as he walks away from them. Charleston Police Department officers can be heard on the footage expressing disbelief that none of them are able to locate a Taser.

Their inquiry goes on for three minutes until an officer with a Taser arrives and fires it at Dickerson. But the Taser didn’t connect properly. Officers rushed in and when Dickerson turned to face them, they opened fire, hitting him three times.

In a press conference held later that day, reporters asked Hunt why officers weren’t able to find a Taser sooner. Hunt explained that Covid-19 had hampered his officers’ ability to renew their Taser training certification.

But a Freedom Of Information request by West Virginia Public Broadcasting showed the number of officers certified to carry Tasers the week Dickerson was shot had gone up since the outbreak of Covid–– from 34 officers in December 2019 to 36 officers in April 2021.

When asked for clarification, Hunt said he meant that Covid-19 had derailed scheduled training sessions that would have taken the total number of officers certified in Taser training from 36 to 57.

Since the shooting, Hunt has announced a plan to improve his department's ability to respond with non-lethal force. He’s committed to using bean bag rounds in his department’s shotguns and purchasing new, more reliable Tasers–a model called the Taser 7.

“With that you get more of the pulse technology that comes with it. That’s the ability to incapacitate the muscles at a much higher rate. So, they would be a much more effective tool. And, they also have better accuracy when it comes to deployment. So, with the new Taser 7’s, we could possibly have ended the situation on April 30th a little bit differently.”

Speaking on a jail webcam during an interview, Dickerson said during his first few days in an Intensive Care Unit, he remembers coming in and out of consciousness. From the day he was shot, Dickerson spent almost a week in the ICU. He says he was handcuffed to his bed, holding his wrists up to a webcam from jail to show this reporter the markings he said came from the cuffs.

“And I’m talking about the officers who wouldn't even hand me my little jug to use the bathroom and I used the bathroom myself probably like four or five times because they wouldn't give me the jug.”

Dickerson was transferred from the ICU to a general care floor for one day before being taken to South Central Regional Jail and put in its medical facility. As he spoke with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, he was clutching the video machine, leaning off to his left side.

“My right leg is––it feels like it's numb. Like, you know, it's asleep,” he said. “And, then, like, the back of my neck, the bullet that hit me in the back of my neck and the bottom of my head. It's been hurting really bad. Like, it keeps swelling up. I don't know if there's a fragment or something in there. Like, it’s just––it's crazy. Like in my stomach….like, it’s bad.”

Michael Cary, an attorney who’s being retained by Dickerson’s family, said giving the officers more training and Tasers is essential. But what happened that day, Cary said it’s unacceptable.

Cary said the family plans on filing a civil suit with the City of Charleston in the near future.

“I think that it's negligence. Not having your officers equipped with Tasers,” Cary said. “But, they're here to protect and serve us, you know. And we just want the same amount of care that an officer would give any other person.”


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