Alabama police shot black man they mistook for a mall shooter 3 times from behind, autopsy finds

In total, three bullets struck the young black man, whom police said they mistook as an armed shooter.
December 3, 2018, 9:51pm
In total, three bullets struck the young black man, whom police said they mistook as an armed shooter.

When police opened fire on 21-year-old Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr., on Thanksgiving at a suburban mall in Alabama, he was facing away from them, according to the autopsy released by the family’s lawyer Monday. In total, three bullets struck the young black man, whom police said they mistook as an armed shooter.

The gunfire hit Bradford in the back of his head, neck, and lower back — any of which could have killed him, according to the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump. The findings shed light on what truly happened during a shooting for which the Hoover Police Department has changed its story numerous times.

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The situation started on Thanksgiving around 9:30 p.m local time, when police responded to reports of a physical altercation at the Riverchase Galleria Mall that escalated to gunfire and left a 12-year-old girl and an 18-year-old male injured.

What exactly happened next has so far remained a mystery. Bradford, whom police initially identified as the suspected shooter, ended up dead, while the real suspected gunman, Erron Brown, was apprehended and arrested days later. Brown’s gun was recovered in Santa’s Village in the mall. Police said Bradford also had a gun on him, but his parents called their son, a licensed gun owner, a “good guy with a gun” who was likely trying to protect the victims.

READ: When can cops legally shoot someone running away from them?

The day after the mall shooting, the Hoover Police Department released a statement that Bradford “likely did not fire the rounds that injured the 18-year-old victim.” Over the following weekend, protesters joined by Bradford’s family marched at the mall where the shooting took place. That Sunday, Crump — who has worked some of the most high-profile police shooting cases involving black victims in recent years, including Trayvon Martin in Florida, Tamir Rice in Ohio, and Stephon Clark in California — gave a press conference alongside Bradford’s family and called for the police department to release video of the incident.

"The Hoover Police Department don't need to say no more,” Crump said. “All they need to do is show the video.”

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The following Monday, Nov. 26, the Hoover PD released another statement about Bradford’s death. “We can say with certainty that Mr. Bradford brandished a gun during the seconds following the gunshots, which instantly heightened the sense of threat to the approaching police officers responding to the chaotic scene,” Hoover police wrote.

Later that morning, and amid a public outcry, police clarified their earlier statement, particularly the bit about how Bradford had “brandished” a firearm. “The word ‘brandish’ was used because Mr. Bradford had a gun in his hand as police officers responded to the active shooter situation between mall patrons,” the department said.

In the week since, pressure has been mounting on the police department to release video footage of the killing, which officials have said they will do once an investigation is complete.

The autopsy results come one day after the Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered a powerful eulogy at Bradford’s funeral in Birmingham, Alabama, and called on Hoover Police Department to be transparent about what happened before they killed the young man. He also linked Bradford’s death to the history of civil rights abuses against black people in Alabama.

“Innocent blood has power,” Jackson said. “We will have the tape made public. We want transparency, not cover-up. Tell the whole story, tell it now. We want justice now. We want fairness now.”

Cover image: Attorney Ben Crump discusses the results of a forensic examination on Emantic "EJ" Bradford Jr., who was fatally shot by police in a shopping mall on Thanksgiving day, during a news conference in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)