An independent autopsy of an Alabama man killed by police officers responding to a shooting at a mall on Thanksgiving has found that the victim was shot three times from behind, casting more doubt on the official justification for the shooting, an attorney for the man’s family said Monday.
Police had originally said the man, 21-year-old E.J. Bradford Jr., was the gunman in a shooting that injured two people at a mall in Hoover late that night. After a heated argument among a group of young men, one of the men pulled out a gun and shot 18-year-old Brian Wilson, who remains in critical condition. Twelve-year-old Molly Davis, who was standing nearby, was also shot, but she has since fully recovered.
An on-duty police officer who was working security at the mall for the holiday shopping season then appeared at the scene and shot Bradford. It’s not yet clear if the officer saw Bradford with a gun or was told he had one. Some witnesses have said the officer gave no verbal commands to Bradford before shooting him. In the aftermath, Hoover’s police chief praised the police at the scene for stopping the gunman.
It wasn’t until the next day that police, citing “new evidence,” announced that while Bradford may have been involved, he wasn’t actually the gunman. Three days later, Hoover police gave a new statement saying Bradford was involved in the conflict and brandishing a gun, “heighten[ing] the sense of threat to approaching police officers responding to the chaotic scene.” Then later that same day, they said Bradford had a gun in his hand but was not threatening anyone with it. According to his family’s lawyer, Bradford was legally allowed to carry a gun, and some witnesses have said he was trying to help at the time of the shooting.
City officials later apologized for misidentifying Bradford, but his family has remained angry about the handling of their son’s killing, the city’s failure to quickly notify them, and the shifting narrative and statements days after the shooting portraying their son as in some way at fault for his own death.
According to the attorney for Bradford’s family, the medical review of Bradford’s body found that the 21-year-old had been hit in the back of his head, the back of his neck, and in his back, according to AL.com. He also had a wound around his right eyebrow, indicating that he fell forward when shot.
“We believe based on this forensic evidence that this officer should be charged with a crime,” the family’s attorney said at the press conference announcing the results. “There’s nothing that justifies him shooting E.J. as he’s moving away from him. You’re not a threat when you’re running away.”
Hoover police announced Monday that, at the request of state law enforcement, they would not release any information—including body camera or mall surveillance videos—about the investigation into the shooting until its completion, despite the urging of some city leaders. “We are trying very hard to take them at their word,” the attorney for the family said, according to AL.com. “But it’s very difficult for this father and this family after they were lied to before.”
On Thursday, authorities arrested 20-year-old Erron Martez Dequan Brown, who they allege to be the real shooter. Brown has been charged with attempted murder for shooting Wilson. Bradford’s shooting sparked a number of protests in Hoover, and activists continue to call for release of the body camera footage. The officer who fired the shot has been placed on inactive duty, according to the Associated Press.
More than 1,000 people attended Bradford’s funeral on Saturday. The civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke, and friends and family remembered Bradford as a goofy and generous man who served as a caregiver for his father and was always “on call” to help his friends when they needed it.