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 today shared a report following a more than two-month investigation into 21-year-old Bradford’s death.
The report also detailed the investigation into the gunfire inside the mall that injured 18-year-old Brian Wilson and 12-year-old bystander Molly Davis moments before Hoover police killed Bradford. Erron Brown, 20, is charged with attempted murder in the shooting of Wilson.
Marshall today 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 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.”
It was then Officer 1 identified Bradford “as an immediate threat to innocent civilians and thus shot Bradford to eliminate the threat,” the report adds.
The family of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford who died Thanksgiving night at the Riverchase Galleria mall speaks after meeting with representatives from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office in downtown Birmingham.
Posted by al.com on Tuesday, February 5, 2019
The SBI recovered surveillance video from JC Penney and FootAction. The video captures both the shooting of Wilson and the shooting of Bradford, according to the report.
Synchronizing the videos, Marshall wrote, suggests the following chain of events, which spans just five seconds: Erron Brown shoots Brian Wilson then, along with his companions, runs into JC Penney. Bradford initially runs in the opposite direction, away from JC Penney, creating a gap between himself and the gunshots.
“As he creates this gap, Bradford draws his weapon and chambers a round,’’ Marshall wrote. “Bradford then charges back toward JC Penney, gun drawn. Officer 1 shoots Bradford as Bradford is running toward Brian Wilson, (someone) assisting Wilson, Erron Brown (the initial shooter) and several innocent bystanders.”
Marshall wrote that investigators collected numerous items of evidence that enhance the narrative provided by the two store surveillance videos. The officer who shot Bradford provided two statements concerning his actions: the first within a few minutes of the shooting and the second one week later.
“Me and (Officer 2) were standing over there. We heard two shots. And I turned around; we drew our guns. That guy (Bradford) was running toward them with a gun in his hand. I shot him,” the officer said in his first statement.
On Nov. 29, the officer provided this written statement to investigators:
“I was located on the second floor in front of Spencer’s. My partner and I were observing the crowd for any violations of the law and/or disruptions to the orderly conduct of shopping. I heard two gunshots and a female’s scream behind me. I turned toward the noise, drawing my firearm. I was in reasonable fear for the lives of the shoppers, my partner and myself. I instinctively started moving towards the area where the gunshots were heard while looking for immediate threats. I then observed a crowd of shoppers near FootAction running away from where I heard gunshots. “
“I observed two males were not running away but, instead, were standing near the railing in front of FootAction. One male appeared to be injured, clutching his stomach, while the other male appeared to be helping him. Next, I observed an armed suspect quickly moving towards the two males standing near the railing. The suspect was advancing on the two males and had a black handgun in his right hand. I fired my duty weapon at the armed suspect to stop him. The suspect fell near the other two males and I observed the suspect’s firearm slide across the floor.”
“I ordered the two males by the railing to lay down to determine whether they were a threat to safety. I asked the uninjured male if he was armed, whether he was injured, and if the suspect was the only shooter. I understood an affirmative response to my last question. No additional weapons were found, and ultimately, I did not observe any further threats to the safety of others.”
Marshall wrote that the officer believed Bradford was going to murder Brian Wilson and his friend. In the officer’s estimate, Bradford was only 10 feet away from Wilson and his friend as he was running toward them with a firearm.
The officer, Marshall said, believed that Bradford was holding his gun in a manner that allowed Bradford to shoot Wilson, his friend or turn and shoot both Hoover officers.
After shooting Bradford, the officer did not engage Wilson or his friend because neither man appeared armed nor did either man appear to pose an immediate threat.
Marshall noted that the officer was unable to provide verbal commands to Bradford before firing his weapon due to the quickness of the event and immediate threat Bradford posed to Wilson and his friend.
The officer explained that, consistent with department policy, his body camera was in standby mode when he heard the initial gunshots. The officer stated that he did not activate his body camera before he engaged and shot Bradford because there was ‘no time’ due to the quickness and urgency of the event. The officer did activate his body camera once he and the other officer began attending to Wilson and his friend.
SBI interviewed three additional officers and 47 witnesses who were at the Galleria at the time of the shootings. Six of those witnesses provided information relevant to the officer-involved shooting.
The second officer with the officer who fired the fatal shot said after they heard shots fired, he witnessed a large number of people running into the hallway that exited into the parking deck. He said he and his partner jumped into the crowd of people to cover and look for a threat.
“Officer 2 stated that it was obvious there was an ‘active shooter situation’ in front of the FootAction store but did not know where the person who fired the initial shots was because his view was blocked,’’ Marshall wrote. “Officer 2 stated that he drew his weapon while trying to locate the shooter in an effort to save the lives of persons in the mall.”
The second officer stated that as he scanned the area, he observed the silhouette of a person and a weapon. “Officer 2 stated that he heard Officer 1 fire approximately three shots,’’ Marshall wrote. “Officer 2 stated that he did not discharge his weapon because he believed that the threat was eliminated when EJ Bradford fell to the ground.”
A third officer said he and a fourth officer were working together on the first floor of the Galleria outside of JC Penney when they heard gunfire and saw a puff of black smoke. The third officers said he could see Wilson through the railing but could not see a weapon or determine who shot Wilson. He then saw the officer who shot Bradford moving from the left toward a target with his weapon drawn. Officer 3 could not see who Officer 1 engaged and ultimately shot.
“Officer 3 stated that, based on his perspective from the first floor, the person whom Officer 1 shot (Bradford) was not the initial shooter,’’ Marshall wrote. “However, Officer 3 stated that determining the location of the initial shooter would not have been possible from Officer 1’s position on the second floor. Officer 3 stated that he believed Officer 1 perceived that EJ Bradford posed a threat and took enforcement action, as every law enforcement officer would have done in that situation.”
One of the witnesses was an employee at Claire’s, another nearby store. She told investigators that she was working when she heard gunshots. She said she immediately rushed employees and customers to the back of the store and pulled the front door shut.
While at the door, she said she saw a black male on the ground by the railing who appeared to be injured. She said she also saw a black male standing to the side of the injured male, holding a gun. “Eyewitness 1 stated that this male (Bradford) appeared to be the shooter because he was the only man with a gun,’’ Marshall wrote.
She then saw two Hoover officers approaching Bradford. They were in a low-crouching position with both hands on their guns, pointing at Bradford. She said Bradford was not moving. “Eyewitness 1 stated that she heard an officer say, ‘Drop your weapon, drop your weapon Sir, put your weapon on the ground,’ and also say, ‘He is still not doing anything.’ Eyewitness 1 stated that she then witnessed Officer 1 shoot EJ Bradford. Eyewitness 1 then went to the back of the store and informed employees that the police had shot the initial shooter and now were in control.”
Other eyewitnesses included another Claire’s employee and a JC Penney employee. The second Claire’s employee said she did not see Bradford’s weapon, but she saw Bradford taking an “aggressive stance” and heard the police officer ask Bradford, “literally three times,” to drop his weapon. She said Bradford did not comply. “Eyewitness 2 stated that she then saw Officer 1 shoot EJ Bradford. Eyewitness 2 stated that she believed EJ Bradford shot Brian Wilson and that she was afraid that Bradford would shoot the officer and/or Eyewitnesses 1 and 2 if he turned and saw them.”
The JC Penney employee said she saw a police officer shoot Bradford three times. She said she did not see Bradford holding a gun, but did see a gun come out from his right side as he fell to the floor.
The autopsy by the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office was done Nov. 23 and determined Bradford had been shot three times: once in the back right of the head; once in the middle of the neck and once in the back, just above the right buttock. Medical examiners determined that Bradford died from an injury to the brain caused by that bullet that struck Bradford on the back right side of his head.
The officer fired four bullets, one of which struck a pillar to the right of the entrance of FootAction. The recover of the fragment from the pillar indicates that the officer did not hit the 12-year-old girl in her back. Video showed that Molly had already entered FootAction before Officer 1 fired any shots, and showed she was already holding her back before the officer fired any shots.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office recovered Bradford’s gun – a Glock 19 Gen4 – from the scene. At the time of recovery, there were 14 live rounds in the 15-round magazine and one live round in the chamber. It appears that Bradford chambered a bullet before being shot by the officer.
Background on the case:
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
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 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.
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