A year after a Hoover, Alabama, police officer killed Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr. at a mall on Thanksgiving, Bradford’s family is suing the yet-to-be-named police officer for wrongful death.
Bradford’s mother, April Pipkins, filed the lawsuit against the unnamed policeman and the city of Hoover Friday, alleging that the officer did not follow his training, violated department policy by not turning on his body-worn camera, failed to issue verbal commands before opening fire and did not verify whether Bradford posed a threat before killing him.
The slain 21-year-old’s family says he was at Riverchase Galleria in the Birmingham suburb with his cousin and friends the night of Thanksgiving 2018 when, police allege, Erron Martez Dequan Brown began shooting. Possessing a permit to carry a weapon, Bradford pulled out his gun and was helping people escape when the unnamed Hoover police officer working as mall security shot him, they say.
The suit, which also alleges Fourth and 14th Amendment violations, excessive force among them, seeks a jury trial and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
City confident there’s no wrongdoing, it says
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a report in February calling the shooting “justified” and saying he would not be presenting the case to a grand jury. It was his understanding, he said, that the US Department of Justice had no plans to initiate a civil rights case against the officer, either.
The city has repeatedly stood by the officer and issued a statement last week through city attorney Phillip Corley saying it would continue to defend him.
“The many allegations made against the city of Hoover in the days and weeks following the incident are false. After all evidence is presented, no wrongdoing by the city or any of our officers will be shown,” the statement said.
Responding to the family’s complaint that prosecutors had withheld certain evidence from the family – a matter about which the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union in March joined the family in suing the city and Marshall – the city said it has produced all the information it can produce.
Because of the investigation into Brown, who is charged with attempted murder in the shooting, neither the city nor Marshall can release the other requested records, the city statement said.
Did officer tell Bradford to drop gun?
Upon learning in February his son’s killer would not be charged, Bradford’s father, a former law enforcement official, vowed that the case was not over.
“You think I’m going to let it go?” he asked reporters at the time. “As a black man, it’s wrong.”
One key to the case will be whether police at the mall identified themselves as law enforcement and ordered Bradford to drop his weapon.
Marshall’s report quoted two unidentified witnesses, both employees of stores in the mall, saying they heard police tell Bradford to put down his gun.
One said she saw Bradford take an “aggressive stance” and heard an officer tell him “literally three times” to drop his gun, while another witness said she heard the officer say, “Drop your weapon, drop your weapon sir, put your weapon on the ground.”
The officer, however, didn’t relay this information in two statements, one taken minutes after the shooting, the second a week later, the report said.
“I observed an armed suspect quickly moving towards the two males standing near the railing,” the officer said in his second statement. “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 report concludes the officer “was unable to provide verbal commands to E.J. Bradford before firing his weapon due to the quickness of the event and the immediate threat Bradford posed.”
The lawsuit filed last week claims that the officer “admits that he never gave Bradford any verbal warnings or commands from which he could further assess and verify Bradford’s status as either (a) an innocent civilian and/or first responder, or (b) a credible threat.”
Lawsuit cites officials’ shifting accounts
Another key will be the changing narrative that authorities delivered to the public following the shooting. At first, police said an officer killed Bradford after he shot Brian Wilson, 18, and fled. Later, officials said witnesses and forensic tests indicated Bradford may have been involved in an altercation but had not likely fired the shots that injured WIlson and 12-year-old Molly Davis.
Officials again changed the story to say Bradford had brandished a weapon, only to recant the word brandish. They corrected the statement to say that Bradford had a gun in his hand, which “immediately heightened the sense of threat to approaching police officers.”
The family’s lawsuit emphasizes that Alabama is an open carry state, meaning residents are permitted to carry visible guns in public, and that Bradford had pistol and concealed carry permits, which allowed him to carry a handgun obscured from public view.
Still, the lawsuit says, Bradford was shot three times, with the bullets landing beneath his ear, at the base of his neck and above his buttocks, an independent medical review commissioned by the family showed.
Erron Brown, 20, was arrested in Georgia days after the incident and charged with attempted murder in Wilson’s shooting, police said. Brown’s attorney has said video will clear his client. No charges have been filed in the shooting of the 12-year-old.
Attorney, ACLU say race a factor
The officer who shot Bradford was placed on administrative leave after the shooting, but once he was cleared by Marshall, Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato said the lawman was in the process of returning to work and that the city would pay for his legal defense in any civil proceedings.
“We will defend our city, and we will defend our police officer,” he told reporters in February, adding that he would not identify the officer because investigators determined he had committed no crime.
Bradford family attorney Ben Crump has said the officer shot Bradford because he was black – “In this case, it looks very much like the officer’s reasoning was ‘black man plus gun equals shoot’” – while the ACLU has suggested race was a factor in Marshall’s investigation.
“The decision to evade a grand jury mimics the (darkest) patterns of injustice woven throughout Alabama’s sad history of race relations,” Crump said.
Added ACLU policy analyst Dillon Nettles, “The attorney general’s characterization of E.J. Bradford as a ‘threat’ that needed ‘eliminating’ reveals how little regard the attorney general has for the life of this black man.”
CNN’s Tina Burnside and Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.