Family of Columbia man fatally shot by RCSD deputy calls for independent investigation

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Published: Mar. 23, 2022 at 9:15 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Through their attorneys, the family of a Columbia man who was fatally shot by a Richland County Sheriff’s Department deputy over the weekend is calling for an independent investigation into the matter.

Irvin D. Moorer Charley’s family commented for the first time since the shooting on Wednesday, and said that they believe Charley’s death was preventable. They also called on RCSD to release all body camera and dashcam video related to the incident.

Family attorneys believe that an outside agency like the State Law Enforcement Division should investigate the incident.

“This is the fox guarding the hen house,” Attorney Brendan Green, who represents Charley’s family, said.

RCSD sent a statement in response to this request, which reads:

“RCSD has gathered evidence in officer involved shootings since 2014.  Larger agencies throughout the United States that have experienced criminal investigators that have the ability to investigate complex cases, full service forensic capabilities to include DNA and ballistics, and an accredited Crime Scene Team,  all investigate their officer involved shootings.  RCSD is the largest law enforcement agency in the State and has all of these capabilities.

RCSD does not make a determination if an OIS is justified.  This decision is made by the Solicitor.

Additionally, RCSD has layers of checks and balances as we gather evidence.  The Coroner does their separate investigation as to the cause of death; the Solicitor reviews all the evidence and procedures used by RCSD.  The RCSD Citizens Advisory Council, which includes many community leaders and organization representatives review and have full access to the gathering of evidence and the FBI reviews the case.

Our ability to handle a complex OIS is evidenced by RCSD handling the largest mass shooting of police officers in South Carolina in 2018.  Seven police officers were shot in Florence, where two were killed.  RCSD was the lead agency in the case, which is a death penalty case.

The citizens of Richland County have the trust and faith of RCSD in doing an effective and complete gathering of evidence in office involved shootings.”

In response to the family’s request, RCSD released the full body camera video of the two deputies involved, showing the moments leading up to the shooting death of Charley.

In releasing the video, RCSD said the family had previously asked the department not to release the body camera footage after viewing it on Monday. Out of respect to the family, RCSD chose not to initially release it.

Following the release of the video, family attorneys Shaquana Cuttino and Brendan Green released a statement, which reads: “The bodycam video released today by the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept. shows a seriously flawed interaction between law enforcement and an individual who is disoriented and clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis. It is painful to hear the frustration in his mother’s voice about wanting assistance with her son but still begging officers not to kill him.

Given the number of interactions between Mr. Charley and deputies with the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept. previously, deputies arriving on the scene either should have known or should have been informed of the history between the department and Mr. Charley by dispatchers. In fact, there was a deputy on the scene prior to the other deputies arriving which would indicate there was plenty of time to call in crisis intervention personnel.

With Sheriff Leon Lott’s very public announcement of the formation of a Crisis Intervention Team and accompanying mental health initiatives last year, it is incredibly disappointing that this situation could be so poorly handled. Until the sheriff gets serious about creating a system or process to protect the mentally-ill in Richland County, Mr. Charley will most likely and unfortunately not be the last mentally-ill person to die during an interaction with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.”

The incident occurred on Saturday evening when deputies were called for a domestic call with a weapon.

RCSD released the 911 call that was made from one unidentified family member. In the call, the woman claims that Charley had pulled a knife on her brother, stepdad and mother, and was punching them.

When deputies arrived, they found Charley with a wooden stake and opened fire on him after he charged Deputy Zachary Hentz.

At a press conference today, attorneys and family members said that more could have been done to disarm Charley before using lethal force.

“I tried to warn them that he had a mental health problem,” Ivan Charley, Irvin Charley’s brother, said. “I just don’t think they were trying to listen to me. I told them that it was not a wood, it wasn’t a stick, it didn’t have bullets so there was no way he could’ve defended himself like they defended themselves. And I mean, I just feel like it could have went down so many different ways.”

Attorneys say that RCSD deputies were familiar with Charley and his mental illness, had been called out countless times and should have called in a crisis intervention team.

However, it is unclear if the responding deputies on Saturday had any previous encounters with Charley.

Connie Craig, Charley’s mother, said her son “did not deserve this.”

“The officers were very aware of my son’s condition,” Connie Craig, Charley’s mother, said. “They had been to the home many times, several times to my home, my mother’s home. But the day of the incident I begged them, I begged them to let me help my son. I begged them not to shoot him. But they kept telling me to go back, get back. Only thing I could hear is them saying ‘get back.’ I tried to tell them I’ve been dealing with him for a long time, and I probably could have gotten him to stop. They said ‘get back, get back.’”

RCSD Sheriff Leon Lott spoke about the issue of mental illness on Sunday.

“It’s sad all around,” he said. “Mental health is a problem in our community. We do not need to continue to ignore it. When somebody cries out for help, they need to get that help. They just don’t need to be ignored.”

WIS asked the attorneys what was done to try to get Charley help for his mental illness. They say they’re looking into that and are seeking out additional information on the matter from the South Carolina Department of Mental Health.

Lott said the entire community, law enforcement included, needs to do a better job of addressing mental health issues.

“We don’t need to lose anybody else to something like this, but we have to protect our community and we have to protect our deputies.”

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