HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — A mayor’s calls for patience following the shooting of a black man by police at Alabama’s largest shopping mall were met Monday by chanting, marching protesters who blocked one of the state’s busiest roads.
Several dozen protesters holding signs blocked heavily traveled U.S. 31 at Interstate 459 during evening rush hour near the Riverchase Galleria, where a police officer killed 21-year-old Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. on Thanksgiving night.
Hoover police shot Bradford while responding to a shooting that wounded two people at the mall. They later said Bradford wasn’t the gunman in the shooting although he had a gun that officers saw.
The demonstration in the city of 95,000 people just south of Birmingham came shortly after Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato offered sympathy to Bradford’s family.
“We all want answers and we believe with patience and focus the truth will be firmly established,” Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato said while reading a public statement in which he pleaded for patience while a state investigation continues.
The shooting had already sparked multiple protests in the suburban city amid calls to publicly release body camera footage and other video.
An officer killed Bradford while responding to the report of the shooting last week that wounded two people in the mall.
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 indicates he was not the person who shot an 18-year-old and a 12-year-old bystander.
Authorities said the actual gunman remains at large.
A lawyer for Bradford’s family said witnesses have contacted his law firm saying Bradford was trying to “wave people away from the shooting” and the officer did not issue any verbal commands before shooting the 21-year-old.
“He saw a black man with a gun and he made his determination he must be a criminal,” Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Bradford’s family said of the officer at a news conference Sunday in Birmingham.
Responding to building tensions, police and the city of Hoover on Monday offered public sympathy to the Bradford family and issued more detailed statements about the shooting and the investigation.
“We can say with certainty Mr. Bradford brandished a gun during the seconds following the gunshots, which instantly heightened the sense of threat to approaching police officers responding to the chaotic scene,” the statement said. They later clarified the use of the verb “brandished” saying it meant Bradford was holding a gun.
Bradford’s father and other family members said they want to see body camera video from the shooting. Family members expressed frustration and anger that the young man was initially described as a gunman who shot two people.
“I knew my son didn’t do that. People rushed to judgment. They shouldn’t have done that,” Emantic Bradford, Sr. told The Associated Press.
Hoover police said Monday that “body camera video and other available video has been turned over to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) which is now investigating the shooting. “Release of any video will be done as ALEA deems appropriate during the investigation,” the statement added.
The mayor said he is requesting a meeting with the Bradford family. Family members have said they learned through social media of their loved one’s death. Video circulated on social media of Bradford lying uncovered in a pool of blood on the floor of the mall.
Bradford’s father, a former longtime employee of the Birmingham Police Department jail, said his son had a permit to carry a concealed handgun. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which issues concealed carry permits, referred questions to ALEA on whether Bradford had a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
Bradford was a graduate of a Catholic high school in Birmingham and afterward joined the U.S. Army, although he had recently left the military, family said.
A U.S. Army spokesman said that Bradford, Jr. reported to the Army for initial entry training in November 2017 but “was administratively separated in August 2018 before completing training” and being awarded a specialty certification.
The shooting sparked a weekend protest at the mall, with demonstrators chanting Bradford’s name as they walked past Christmas shoppers to the spot where he was killed. A group of pastors on Monday joined the called for police to release additional information.
“His mother deserves answers. The community deserves answers,” said the Rev. Nate Brooks of the Greater Saint John Baptist Church in Birmingham.