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Alabama Police Officer justified in wrongful shooting during chaotic scene at mall

Posted by Staff Writer on

Carol Robinson

Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

A Hoover police officer was justified in fatally shooting Emantic Fitzgerald “EJ” Bradford Jr. Thanksgiving night inside the Riverchase Galleria, state officials announced today.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s website today posted a report following a more than two-month investigation into 21-year-old Bradford’s death, as well as the gunfire that wounded a Birmingham 18-year-old and a 12-year-old innocent bystander moments before Hoover police killed Bradford.

Marshall also released this video of the incident:

Marshall’s options were to clear the officer, charge the officer or send the case to a grand jury for indictment consideration. The investigation was led by the State Bureau of Investigation and involved dozens of witnesses and hundreds of other pieces of evidence, including multiple cell phone videos taken by shoppers, mall surveillance video, body cam video, text messages and Facebook posts.

The attorney general met with members of the Bradford family and their lawyers at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Birmingham Tuesday morning. They arrived at the downtown building just before 11 a.m.

The report identifies the Hoover officer who killed Bradford as “Officer 1.”

“After an extensive investigation and review, the Attorney General has determined Officer 1 did not commit a crime under Alabama law when he shot and killed E.J. Bradford and thus the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct preclude presentation of this case to a grand jury,” the report states.

“The facts of this case demonstrate that Officer 1 reasonably exercised his official powers, duties, or functions when he shot” Bradford, the report continues.

“Officer 1” and his partner were working on-duty in the Galleria when they heard gunfire from 75 feet away. The two officers encountered Bradford within three seconds. Bradford, the report states, “held a firearm in a ready position.” The two officers charged forward.

“Several persons were in Bradford’s path. Immediately before him, Brian Wilson lay on the ground, bleeding from his gunshot wounds and a 18-year-old (name redacted in report; only identified as “AC”) stood over Wilson,” the report continues. “Beyond them, Erron Brown (the initial shooter) and his companions were running for JC Penney, while several innocent bystanders were scrambling for cover.”

The shooting happened late Thanksgiving night at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover. The gunfire erupted outside Foot Action on the second floor of the mall. When the shots ended, Brian Wilson and Molly Davis were both injured.

Two Hoover officers who were just feet away heard the gunfire and approached the area. They spotted a suspect holding a gun. The man, Bradford, died at the scene after being shot by Hoover officer.

Hoover police initially portrayed Bradford as the mall gunman and said officers acted heroically to “take out the threat” within seconds of shots being fired in the crowded mall. They later retracted the statement, and said while Bradford was seen with a handgun, evidence indicated he was not the person who shot 18-year-old Brian Wilson and 12-year-old bystander Molly Davis, who was shopping with her grandmother and sister. Erron Brown, 20, is charged with attempted murder in the shooting of Wilson.

The Jefferson County’s Sheriff’s Office was called in that night to investigate the officer-involved shooting. It is standard practice to call in an outside agency for officer-involved shootings. Within days, investigators discovered that a relative of Sheriff Mark Pettway’s was a witness in the case, so the investigation was then turned over to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s State Bureau of Investigation.

In December, Marshall announced said his office was assuming prosecutorial jurisdiction after the admission by Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr in a letter to Marshall of the presence of potential conflicts between himself and key parties in the case. Carr’s potential conflicts appeared to be his relationships with several of the organizers of ongoing protests over Bradford’s death.

The day after the Nov. 7 election, Carlos Chaverst Jr. posted on Facebook two photos of himself with Carr. Chaverst in 2017 had launched a petition for the governor to keep Carr as district attorney, netting more than 1,500 signatures.

At a preliminary hearing earlier this month, Special Agent Pete Acosta first took the stand and testified that witnesses said Wilson first approached Brown, followed by a large group of people.

Wilson slapped and punched Brown, Acosta said, and Brown then shot Wilson and fled the scene with two friends. Those two friends talked to police and also testified during the hearing.

Wilson was shot twice with a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson, according to Acosta. He was shot once in the left side of the abdomen and once in the left side of his chest. Of the six shell casings found at the mall, Acosta said two were from a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson. The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences determined those shell casings came from a .40 caliber gun found in Brown’s belongings at the time of his arrest, Acosta testified.

An arrest warrant was obtained on Nov. 28, and the following day Brown was arrested at his uncle’s house outside of Atlanta. Acosta said the uncle appeared to not have any knowledge about the shooting and led police to several bags of Brown’s belongings. Police found a .40 caliber gun in one of those bags. The gun had been reported stolen earlier in 2018, Acosta testified.

Also at that hearing, Roosevelt Poole testified he was with Brown and another friend named Eric Parker shopping during Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving night. He knew Bradford and Wilson because the men had all gone to high school together.

Poole said at 9:44 p.m., Bradford messaged him on Facebook and asked where Poole and his friends were. Poole responded they were near J.C. Penney, and soon Poole said Bradford, Wilson, and about eight other people showed up. Poole said Bradford walked up to him and shook his hand.

As Poole and Bradford were shaking hands, Poole said he saw Wilson slap and punch Brown several times. Within seconds, Poole said, two shots went off and he ran into the J.C. Penney store with Brown and Parker. The three ran through the store and out to Brown’s car.

Poole said he didn’t see Brown fire a gun. “It happened so fast,” he said, adding that he didn’t know Brown had a gun. Poole also testified that he didn’t see anyone else with a weapon, but he did notice something poking out of Bradford’s shirt.

Within days of the shooting, Bradford’s family hired civil rights attorney Ben Crump and demonstrations over the fatal shooting began. Crump and the activists immediately began to call for police to release body cam footage and mall surveillance video of the shooting.

Protests were held at the mall, Hoover City Hall, outside the homes of Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato and Marshall, outside the AMC Patton Creek movie theater in Hoover, Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa, outside Marshall’s Montgomery home, outside the Hoover officer’s family’s home and on Interstate 459, where protests briefly shut down traffic at the Interstate 65 interchange.

Protest organizer Chaverst, 25, was twice arrested for actions during the ongoing protests on charges of disorderly conduct and loitering. One of the disorderly conduct charges stemmed from his use of a bullhorn in a Ross Bridge subdivision. His loitering charge stemmed from wearing a mask in public at a Dec. 6 protest at Renaissance Ross Bridge. Including Chaverst, eight protesters have been arrested on misdemeanor charges as a result of the demonstrations. They are expected to appear in Hoover Municipal Court Wednesday.

Chaverst on Monday announced protests would resume in Hoover and Montgomery on Wednesday.

This story will be updated with more information from Marshall’s announcement.


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