What Does Alabama’s Attorney General Have to Hide in the Police Killing of EJ Bradford?

UPDATE (3/11/2019): On March 1, Attorney General Steve Marshall formally responded to our public records request by refusing to produce videos, documents, and even the names of officers involved in the killing of E.J. Bradford. In response, the ACLU of Alabama along with Bradford’s parents, Bradford family attorney Benjamin Crump, and the Alabama NAACP sued Marshall and the Hoover Police Department on Monday over their refusal to turn over evidence that’s in the public interest.

“It’s ludicrous and insulting that the state of Alabama thinks we should simply take their word about what happened, without letting us see the full and unedited video footage and without releasing the officer’s name who killed E.J.,” Bradford family attorney Benjamin Crump said. “In a state with the racial history of Alabama, why would anyone believe their account of a white officer shooting a Black man, especially when they’re trying to hide some of the evidence? It’s so unfortunate they have left us with no choice but to sue for video they don’t want us to see and for the name of the officer to be released.”

In Alabama, a family is still grieving after local police killed their son on Thanksgiving night after a gunman opened fire at a mall. But several months after the incident, the Alabama attorney general is still keeping the Bradfords, and the region’s Black community, in the dark about critical details of what happened that night. The Bradfords and the community still don’t know the identity of the Hoover Police Department officer who fired the fatal shots and the state attorney general refusing to release the evidence he relied on to decide the officer won’t face charges for taking the life of an innocent man.

Hoover Police Shoot, Then Criminalize EJ Bradford

On Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018, Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr., a 21-year-old Black man and licensed gun owner, reacted to an active shooter situation at the Riverchase Galleria mall by drawing his handgun and running toward the sound of shooting. Under Alabama law, licensed gun owners have broad rights to openly carry firearms in public.  Witnesses said Bradford was directing other shoppers to safety, and Bradford’s actions were consistent with the NRA’s exhortations to be the “good guy with a gun” in such situations.

However, within seconds of seeing Bradford, a Hoover Police Department police officer shot him three times from behind, killing him. The officer later told investigators that he did not give a warning before he began shooting at Bradford and did not activate his body camera until after he opened fire.

In its first public announcements after the officer killed Bradford, the Hoover Police Department wrongly claimed that Bradford was the active shooter and lauded the officer as a hero. Roughly 20 hours later, the Hoover Police Department admitted that their initial announcement was “not totally accurate”— because they had in fact shot the wrong man.

Black District Attorney Unexpectedly Removed From the Case

Many community members hoped that the newly elected Jefferson County District Attorney, Daniel Carr, would conduct a fair investigation. Although his office — like every other district attorney’s office in the country — works closely with the police departments in his jurisdiction, Carr was also the first Black person ever to serve as district attorney for Jefferson County and had good relationships with local Black community leaders.

On Dec. 13, 2018, however, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced his office would remove Carr from the investigation, citing potential bias based on these very relationships. The first reason why Marshall suggested that he chose to take over the investigation — District Attorney Carr’s connection to police officers as witnesses in other cases — is no different from any other district attorney in the state. If the attorney general were being consistent, he would need to assert jurisdiction over every police shooting investigation rather than singling out Carr. But he has not done so.

As for the fact that District Attorney Carr has relationships with Black people in Jefferson County, this is both normal and expected for an elected official, and none of the Black people cited by the attorney general are involved in the case as alleged perpetrators, victims, or witnesses. Carr confirmed that Marshall’s concerns were discussed at the time they met, but he stated “the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office stands ready and capable to proceed with this case based on the facts and evidence once provided, and the law as it currently exists.”

This move by Marshall was highly unusual. In fact, the last time the Alabama attorney general took over a murder investigation was 65 years ago.

The Attorney General: A Young Black Man’s Death Was “Justified”

Earlier this month, the attorney general released a report concluding that the officer was “justified” in the shooting death of E.J. Bradford. The attorney general’s report characterized Bradford as a “threat” that needed “eliminating” and claimed that although the officer mistakenly believed that Bradford was the shooter, this “does not render his actions unreasonable.” The tone and language of the report reveals how little regard the attorney general had for the life of this Black man.

Regardless of what the attorney general of Alabama said in his report, E.J. Bradford’s life mattered. Black lives matter. We won’t stay quiet while law enforcement continues to inflict lethal violence against Black people and attempt to justify it. 

A Call for Transparency and Accountability

Last week, on Feb. 20, the ACLU, NAACP, and the family of E.J. Bradford — represented by private attorney Benjamin Crump — jointly submitted a public records request to the Hoover Police Department and Office of the Attorney General asking for the release of all body-worn camera footage, all surveillance footage, other materials relied on in the attorney general’s investigation, the name of the officer responsible for killing Bradford and of the other officers who were involved in the incident, and materials relied on by the attorney general in deciding to assert jurisdiction over the investigation.

Especially in light of the public controversy and questions surrounding Mr. Bradford’s killing, there is a strong public interest in release of these records. Meanwhile, particularly because there is no longer a pending criminal investigation of this shooting, there is no countervailing privacy interest held by the officers involved — each of whom was on duty, in uniform, and acting under color of law at the time of the shooting. Law enforcement should provide appropriate data and comprehensive data on its practices and performance, and agencies should not shield officers from scrutiny for violations of law, policy, and community trust.

The attorney general has indicated that he may refuse to respond to the records request because of the pending criminal charges against the suspected shooter, Erron Brown. However, the burden is on him to identify which specific records or portions of records would interfere with these pending criminal charges if released before Brown’s trial. To use this as a blanket excuse to stonewall the request would be to violate the attorney general’s statutory duties under the Public Records Act, not to mention his duty to be accountable to and transparent with the people of Alabama.

We hope that the Attorney General Marshall and the Hoover Police Department will agree that with us that transparency is paramount here and agree to produce the records without a court order. However, we have set a 10-day deadline for them to make that decision, and if we don’t get a response agreeing to produce the records by March 2, we plan to sue under the Alabama Public Records Act.

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Anonymous

This is an unfortunate situation that involved a “good Samaritan,” however, after reviewing the reports, reading the witness statements, looking at the videos it appears to me as a “justified shooting.” As a black law enforcement officer (since 1977), who has worked internal affairs (investigating police misconduct) and public corruption units, I put myself in the officer’s situation. I can see how the officer perceived “E. J.” Bradford Jr. actions as threatening and a clear and present danger to themselves and to the community inside the mall at hand. There have been instances where officers have killed other plain clothes officers armed with a gun because the uniformed officer perceived them as a threat. These shootings were also ruled as a “justified shooting.” When I say justified, I mean justified in the eyes of the law. Could officer 1 have did anything different? We don’t know. We weren’t there. However, the cameras were, and they tell the story that it appears that “E. J.” Bradford Jr. was the active shooter when the police arrived on the scene.

Anonymous

What videos?!?!! If the videos were available they wouldn’t be suing. You have no insider knowledge other than what everyone else knows. I doubt you’re even a cop. A cop wouldn’t be stupid enough to lie about evidence. If it’s just your opinion, say that: it’s just an opinion. Don’t bullshit people because you want them to believe your opinion is the best one.

Anonymous

I am from Chicago area. I have lived in Alabama for some of my life. Black on black crime accounts for 98% of all homicides in the Chicago area. Blacks don't have a high life expectancy in Chicago area from my experience as a detective in homicide. In most of the big cities with a big number of blacks like Detroit, Chicago, st Louis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta it's seems to be the same that blacks don't expect to live beyond 18 or 19. 99% of all homicides of black deaths are between the ages of 14 to 19 years of age are the result of Black on Black crimes. Drugs and gangs are the proponents in these crimes. I highly doubt the racial tension is the main proponent but is a factor still today. I surmise that the officer had good intentions but its possible things to from good to bad in seconds especially in high tension situations. I feel for the family of the victim and the officer in question but using racially charged accusations is not the way to get justice.

Anonymous

This is an unfortunate situation that involved a “good Samaritan,” however, after reviewing the reports, reading the witness statements, looking at the videos it appears to me as a “justified shooting.” As a black law enforcement officer (since 1977), who has worked internal affairs (investigating police misconduct) and public corruption units, I put myself in the officer’s situation. I can see how the officer perceived “E. J.” Bradford Jr. actions as threatening and a clear and present danger to themselves and to the community inside the mall at hand. There have been instances where officers have killed other plain clothes officers armed with a gun because the uniformed officer perceived them as a threat. These shootings were also ruled as a “justified shooting.” When I say justified, I mean justified in the eyes of the law. Could officer 1 have did anything different? We don’t know. We weren’t there. However, the cameras were, and they tell the story that it appears that “E. J.” Bradford Jr. was the active shooter when the police arrived on the scene.

Anonymous

Regarding the comments and question of the black law enforcement officer (since 1977): "Could Officer 1 have did anything different? We don't know. We weren't there."

If the facts, as stated in this article and captured below, are accurate, the answer is Yes! Officer 1 could have responded differently.

"However, within seconds of seeing Bradford, a Hoover Police Department police officer shot him three times from behind, killing him. The officer later told investigators that he did not give a warning before he began shooting at Bradford and did not activate his body camera until after he opened fire."

Having arrived on the scene and not witnessing an active shooter in action, common sense, and I'd hope basic law enforcement training, would have Officer 1 issue a command to any questionable person to stop. Officer 1 should have activated their body camera upon arrival at the mall as well. Had a command to stop been issued, the victim would have been afforded the opportunity to respond by stopping, turning with raised hands and dropping his firearm upon acknowledging the presence of Officer 1. The victim would have been afforded the opportunity to allow Officer 1 to quickly identify him as a good samaritan with a concealed carry permit responding to the crisis at hand. Officer 1 would have been better positioned to continue pursuit of the actual suspect. The victim would have been able to continue living. Had Officer 1 activated his/her body camera upon arrival at the scene, their actions would have likely been different and definitely matters of record. The decision to forego either of these basic steps perpetuates the seemingly racially biased behavior of both law enforcement personnel and the justice system, continued erosion of trust in law enforcement personnel and the justice system, and furthers the narrative that lives of people of color don't matter.

Anonymous

True Law abiding citizens are TIRED OF THESE RACIST COPs and PROSECUTORS that protect white killer cops that use their hate a PREDISPOSITIONS to make judgments about innocent blacks in America.. Then the State Attorney General makes a LYING and LAME excuse up to unpresidently take the case out of the hands of the first elected black District Attorney/Prosecutor.

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