Alabama Cop 'Justified' in Killing Innocent Man, Says State Attorney General

The AG's report suggests Emantic Bradford was in the wrong for simply carrying a firearm.


Jeremy Raines/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The Hoover, Alabama, police officer who killed the wrong man in a mall on Thanksgiving Day won't face criminal charges for his actions. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall's office says the officer was "justified" in shooting 21-year-old Emantic "E.J." Bradford, Jr.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, police had a difficult time getting their story straight. There had been a shooting at the mall that injured 18-year-old Brian Wilson and a 12-year-old bystander, Molly Davis. Bradford was not involved in that shooting, but at some point, he took his gun out. Other shoppers may have done the same, reported in late November. Bejmanin Crump, an attorney for Bradford's family, has suggested Bradford was trying to help people in the midst of the chaos following the shooting.

Bradford ended up being shot and killed by a Hoover Police officer who was on duty at the mall. Police initially claimed Bradford was the suspected shooter, and then said less than two days later that he probably wasn't. Police eventually arrested a different suspect, Erron Martez Dequan Brown, who claims he shot Brian Wilson in self-defense, according to a report Marshall's office released yesterday.

That 24-page report explains why the unidentified cop who killed Bradford, referred to as "Officer 1," won't face charges. "Officer 1 reasonably exercised his official duties, powers, or functions when he shot," the report reads. "Accordingly, Alabama law declares his action 'justified and not criminal.'"

The report includes testimony from multiple witnesses and police. Marshall's office also released partial surveillance footage of both shootings taken from two nearby stores. In describing the footage, the report reads:

Synchronizing these videos suggests the following chain of events, which spans approximately five seconds. Erron Brown shoots Brian Wilson, then along with his companions, runs into JC Penney. E.J. Bradford initially runs in the opposite direction (away from JC Penney), creating a gap between himself and the gunshots. As he creates this gap, Bradford draws his weapon and chambers a round. Bradford then charges back toward JC Penney, gun drawn. Officer 1 shoots Bradford as Bradford is running toward Brian Wilson (the gunshot victim), AC (who is assisting Wilson), Erron Brown (the initial shooter), and several innocent bystanders.

It's difficult to see the first shooting. However, the footage does show the scene turning chaotic in its aftermath. Brown appears to move away from the scene before starting to go the other way. Bradford only makes it a few steps before he drops to the ground, and a small black object appears to fall from his grasp. The footage can be seen below:

"I observed two males who were not running away, but, instead, were standing near the railing in front of FootAction," Officer 1 said in a written statement. "Next, I observed an armed suspect quickly moving towards the two males standing near the railing. 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." After shooting Bradford, Officer 1 said he "asked the uninjured male…if the suspect was the only shooter. I understood an affirmative response to my last question."

In spoken testimony, Officer 1 said he thought Bradford "was going to murder Brian Wilson and AC," according to the report. His body camera was in standby mode until after he shot Bradford.

Officer 1's partner at the time, identified as "Officer 2," backed up Officer 1's testimony. "Officer 2 stated that, at the time, he believed E.J. Bradford had shot Brian Wilson," the report reads.

The report also cited three civilian witnesses. Two of those witnesses said they believed Bradford to be the shooter, though neither witnessed the original shooting. (They simply heard gunshots.) Both of those witnesses said they heard Officer 1 tell Bradford to drop his weapon three times before shooting him. But according to the report, "Officer 1 stated that he did not give any commands due to the imminent nature of the threat." The report said it's "unclear" whether he actually warned Bradford to put his gun on the ground or not. A third witness, meanwhile, simply "stated that she saw a police officer shoot E.J. Bradford three times."

An official autopsy from the Jefferson County Coroner Medical Examiner's Office did indeed say Bradford was hit three times, seemingly confirming much of what an independent autopsy had previously concluded. Bradford was shot once in the back of the head, once in the neck, and once above his right buttock, the official autopsy found.

The report said Officer 1 was ultimately justified in shooting Bradford because he "acted as a reasonable officer would have under the circumstances" and because he "acted in accordance with nationally-accepted standards for 'active shooter' scenarios."

But Bradford's family isn't buying it. "I'm outraged," Bradford's mother, April Pipkins, told The New York Times. "In no way was justice served," she added. Another witness, Ashlyn McMillan, told the Times that Bradford was helping get shoppers to safety in the first shooting's aftermath.

"It is outrageous and beyond comprehension that the Alabama Attorney General has concluded that it was reasonable for a trained law enforcement officer to fatally shoot an innocent civilian, one whose only action was an attempt to help protect the public and whose only 'crime' was being black," Crump said in a statement emailed to media outlets. Crump claims the footage released by Marshall's office does not tell the whole story, and he's calling for the "full, unedited video" to be "released immediately."

At a preliminary court hearing earlier this month, Special Agent Pete Acosta of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which investigated the case, testified that Wilson had hit Brown, prompting Brown to shoot him. It's not clear if Bradford knew Brown, but they appear to have been connected by a mutual friend, Robert Poole, who also testified at the hearing, according to Poole said he was with Brown and another friend at the mall when Bradford asked about his whereabouts over Facebook. Bradford and Wilson, who attended the same high school as Poole, then showed up at the mall prior to the shooting.

Clearly, there are still may questions left unanswered about what led to that first shooting. Bradford, however, does not appear to have done anything wrong. And clearly, he was not responsible for the original shooting. According to Marshall's report, "there is no evidence that" Bradford's gun "was fired at the incident scene," though he did chamber a round prior to being shot.

It's also worth noting that the attorney general's report suggests Officer 1 was partly justified because of the supposed threat Bradford posed, even though there's no evidence he had or was about to engage in any wrongdoing. The report reads:

Officer 1's primary duty and training was to eliminate any threat to innocent civilians and first responders. While it is now known that E.J. Bradford did not shoot Brian Wilson, Bradford still posed an immediate deadly threat to persons in the area. Video evidence suggests that Bradford, who was carrying a firearm, was running toward the initial shooter, Erron Brown, who was also carrying a firearm. Multiple shoppers were nearby, including a mother and child directly in between the two armed men.

In other words, Officer 1 was justified in killing Bradford for exercising his Second Amendment right to carry a firearm. (Alabama is an open-carry state, and Bradford's father has claimed Bradford has a permit for his gun.) The report suggests that even if Officer 1 did not think Bradford was the shooter, he was right to take him down because he was carrying a weapon. The attorney general's office is operating under the assumption that citizens should not take action to protect themselves and/or others in situations like these.

We saw this type of thinking play out in Chicago last November. An armed security guard returned fire on an active shooter and eventually pinned him to the ground. But the guard was shot and killed when police arrived on the scene and thought he was the bad guy.

As I've previously written, neither man deserved to die, and both actually appear to have been the proverbial "good guy with a gun." The fact that police shot first and asked questions later just makes their deaths all the more tragic.

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  1. Officer 1's primary duty and training was to eliminate any threat to innocent civilians and first responders.

    Anyone armed who isn't blue is a threat. No situational awareness needed. Seems like that training must be pretty simple.

    1. An armed man was approaching a victim. He was more likely to be the shooter trying to finish the job than to be a good samaritan.

      1. Wouldn't that logic also support someone that shot a cop approaching a victim with their gun out?

        1. Not unless you have empirical data to show that cops have a habit of finishing off their victims after the first volley.

          1. Well, cops have a well documented difficulty finishing off "victims" with just one volley.

            1. Not this one.

  2. I... agree with the AG in this particular case. I don't see a criminal case here. A civil case is an entirely different matter, though.

    1. I think this case is a bit tougher than some obvious cases of police criminality. I still think the officer needs to issue a verbal warning before he goes all Wyatt Earp.

      But of course, that seldom solves things, as one officer will shout "Freeze!" one will say, "Hands up!" and another will say, "Drop your weapon!" so the poor guy still gets shot for not complying with one of the three verbal commands.

      1. This one doesn't read to me like other cases where no shots were fired but a firearm was merely seen and the cops went in, guns a blazin'. There were shots fired, two people were hit by shots, a large crowd of people were scattering (I had to watch the video multiple times to even understand what was happening). The cops aren't going to be able to assess whether it's just a gang-type shooting of *pop*pop* and everyone scatters, of they've got a crazed killer on their hands intent on killing as many people as possible. They heard shots, they saw a guy hustling through the crowd with a gun, they shot him.

        I'm not saying it's "justified" from the standpoint of mere propriety, but I'm loathe to consider this one a criminal matter. I just don't see any intent here unlike other cases where it seems the cops were intent on shooting someone.

      2. I think this case is a bit tougher than some obvious cases of police criminality. I still think the officer needs to issue a verbal warning before he goes all Wyatt Earp.

        The narrative I heard on NPR, two separate witnesses recall the officer instructing him to drop the weapon, contradicting the officer's own testimony.

    2. Of course you don't see a criminal case here. First the government would have to actually make a law to hold their armed agents accountable for their actions. IMHO, there is no more effective way for the government to get rid of that onerous 2nd Amendment than to ensure that the general public is well aware of the fact that it's armed agents will shoot to kill anyone in possession of weapon, whether they are the criminal or a 'Good Samaritan".

      1. Certainly a good question to ask would be RC Dean's 'civilian test' question. Would there be a prosecution if the circumstances were exactly the same, except a civilian shot Bradford.

        I don't know, it's a tough call.

  3. I don't think the cop did anything unreasonable.

    A concealed handgun is for self defense. It's not for playing mall cop.

    This is example 835 of why I would never seek contact with a threat. You escape with your family. If other people wanted armed defense, they'd bring their own handguns.

    1. "A concealed handgun is for self defense. It's not for playing mall cop."

      From what I've read, he wasn't playing mall cop, he was an ON DUTY armed security guard.

      1. Are you thinking of the Chicago case mentioned in the next-to-last paragraph?

  4. Sorry but I have to side with the AG on this one. If you brandish a gun at a crime scene you are likely to get shot. And if you didn't know this then you need to demand a refund on your firearm safety training course. And you also need to stop insisting that you carry a gun to protect me. Because you aren't. You are making me less safe.

    1. From what I've read, the person the cop shot was not some random person who happened to be carrying, he was an ON DUTY security guard.

      1. No, Bradford wasn't a security guard.

      2. That's an entirely different incident where cops shot and killed an innocent taxpayer exercising his 2nd Amendment rights.
        It's hard to keep them all straight, I know.

    2. "DajjaI" doesn't sound like a German name and yet...

    3. What's the point of having a gun for self defense if I can't use it to protect myself from criminals committing a crime?

  5. Cops just don't have a good-enough record of shooting the right person to always carry.

    We should also just do-away with "no knock" midnight raids and the like. Getting drugs is not more important then not killing innocent folk.

    If cops are well behaved and can go a decade or so without killing the wrong person or dog, then maybe we can talk about giving patrolmen their guns back. But they just aren't responsible enough for constant-carry.

  6. So if the guy who got shot had misidentified a cop as the active shooter he would have been justified, eh?

  7. WOULD YOU GUYS JUST STOP IT, please? The world is divided into civilians and members of the military. It is NOT divided into civilians and cops. It is not divided into civilians and cops + members of the military. Cops are CIVILIANS! Stop talking about them as if they are not. They are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    Goddamned "language migration".

    1. If cops want to be treated as "civilians" they should stop demanding carve-outs from laws that restrict civilians, and stop insisting that they are special and apart from "civilians".

      1. Pretty much by definition, the cops who are demanding those carve-outs and are insisting that cops are special and apart from civilians aren't seeking for cops to be treated as civilians!

        It is those of us who oppose those carve-outs and special treatment who are insisting that cops ARE civilians.

  8. I have to agree. There's no mens rea here. That's all that was decided: that there was no criminal liability. Civil liability's another matter.

    1. "There's no mens rea here"

      You believe the cop wasn't aware he pulled his weapon, wasn't aware he was aiming his weapon at Bradford, wasn't aware he pulled the trigger if his weapon and wasn't aware that doing all that would fire a bullet that could kill Bradford?

  9. In many of these cases I side with the police, but not this one! While certainly not murder, it is unjustifiable homicide. The police have become much too quick to shoot. "Shoot First and Ask Questions Later"!

  10. Prior to World War II, most prosecutions were by private individuals. You have no doubt heard the phrase "I am pressing charges." In nearly every state today, it is impossible to bring a private criminal prosecution.

    We need to return to private criminal prosecutions, even if they are limited to prosecuting police and government officials. We have seen time and time again what happens when criminal prosecutions are left solely to the discretion of the government.

  11. This is America. I imagine that Erron Martez Dequan Brown will be charged with E.J. Bradford's murder.

  12. "Officer 1's primary duty and training was to eliminate any threat to innocent civilians and first responders."

    If that were truly the case then Officer 1 would have fired his weapon into the mouth of Officer 1 as the only threat to innocent civilians at that point was Officer 1.

    If only there had been a good guy with a gun in the mall to stop the good guy with a gun from being shot shot by the "good guy" with a gun and a badge.

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