The mayor of Hoover, Alabama, said Wednesday that the city will support and defend a police officer who killed a legally-armed African-American man in a shopping mall in November, a shooting that the state attorney general ruled was justified.
Mayor Frank Brocato said during a news conference that officials at the Hoover Police Department are "relieved" that state Attorney General Steve Marshall cleared the officer who shot 21-year-old Emantic "EJ" Bradford Jr. during a chaotic scene at the Riverchase Galleria Mall on Thanksgiving night.
Bradford was shot multiple times by police after another man opened fire in the mall, wounding an 18-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl. Attorney's for Bradford's family claim their own investigation showed Bradford, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, drew his gun to protect himself and others and ended up getting shot three times in the back by the police officer.
Early in the investigation, Hoover police mistakenly believed Bradford was the gunman who initially opened fire in the mall. Brocato and Hoover Police Chief Nicholas Derzis apologized to Bradford's family for initially identifying Bradford as the gunman who opened fire.
About a week after Bradford's death, police arrested Erron Brown, 20, and identified him as the alleged gunman who opened fire in the mall. Brown was charged with attempted murder.
Bradford's parents have said they now plan to seek justice for their son by filing a civil suit against the police department and the city of Hoover.
"We will defend our city and we will defend our police officer," Brocato said.
The name of the officer who shot Bradford has not been made public and Brocato said there are no plans to identify him.
"The officer has some rights as well," Brocato said. "Just as any private citizen that is investigated and found not to have committed a crime, their name is not released. And that's the same procedure we'll follow with this officer."
He said the officer "will go through the process of returning to work," pending a police department internal investigation.
"They had to wait for the attorney general's report to be able to take information that was gathered there to help them complete their investigation," Brocato said of the internal police department probe.
Marshall issued an online report on Tuesday saying the facts of the case did not merit going to a grand jury to seek an indictment against the officer who killed Bradford.
He said an exhaustive probe by the State Bureau of Investigation showed the officer, who he identified only as "Officer 1," was justified in shooting Bradford.
"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 EJ Bradford and thus the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct preclude presentation of this case to a grand jury," Marshall's report states.
As part of the probe, the state Bureau of Investigation interviewed dozens of witnesses and examined hundreds of pieces of evidence, including security video, police bodycam footage and numerous cellphone videos taken by shoppers, according to the report.
Marshall made public the mall security video that showed shoppers running for cover when the initial shooting occurred and Bradford running away from police when he was shot.
The officer who shot Bradford was on-duty at the mall with his partner and heard the gunfire erupt some 75 feet away from them, according to Marshall's report. The two officers, according to the report, raced toward the gunfire and spotted Bradford who "held a firearm in a ready position," according to Marshall's report.
"The facts of this case demonstrate that Officer 1 reasonably exercised his official powers, duties, or functions when he shot" Bradford, according to the report.
During a news conference Tuesday, Bradford's mother, April Pipkins, voiced outrage over Marshall's decision and sent a message to the officer who killed her son, saying, EJ Bradford "did not deserve what you did to him."
"You shoot my first born son three times, three kill shots and you call this justice. How dare you. If this happened to your child, would you still call it justice? Because I don't see any justice in this,” Pipkins said.
Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Bradford's family, called Marshall's decision "outrageous and beyond comprehension."
"Are we to accept that it is reasonable for our law enforcement officers to respond by acting on their inherent biases? In this case, it looks very much like the officer's reasoning was 'black man plus gun equals: shoot,'" Crump said in a statement.
During a news conference Tuesday, Crump said Marshall's report "is bias 100 percent to exonerate the police of murder."
On Tuesday night, protesters angered by Marshall's decision gathered in front of the Hoover City Hall and burned two American flags spray painted with the words "Black Lives Don't Matter."
Activists supporting the family said they plan to hold other demonstrations in coming days and possibly organize a boycott against the city of Hoover.
"Black lives matter. We won't stay quiet while law enforcement continues to inflict lethal violence against Black people and attempt to justify it," Dillon Nettles, policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said in a statement. "Police officers need to be held accountable when they shoot and kill innocent people."