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‘You call this justice’: No charges against officer who killed black man he mistook for a mall shooter

Newly-released video shows a police officer in Hoover, Ala., shooting Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. on Nov. 22, 2018. This video has been edited for clarity. (Video: Alabama attorney general's office)

A police officer who shot and killed a black man during a shootout inside an Alabama mall will not face criminal charges.

A report released by the state’s attorney general’s office says that the officer “reasonably exercised” his power when he shot Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. three times. In the seconds-long chaos of that Thanksgiving night, the officer saw Bradford holding a gun, just feet away from a man who had just been shot. He saw the 21-year-old as “an immediate deadly threat to innocent civilians,” the report says, even though Bradford never fired his gun.

Bradford’s death last November reignited racial tensions in Alabama, where protesters marched through the Riverchase Galleria in the city of Hoover, demanding why police killed a black man who may not have had anything to do with the shooting.

Now, more than two months later, the decision to not charge the officer has renewed that outrage. On Tuesday evening, protesters outside Hoover City Hall burned American flags spray-painted with “BLACK LIVES DON’T MATTER,” as police officers watched from a short distance. Frank Matthews, one of the organizers, told the Associated Press that demonstrators, including Bradford’s relatives, will travel to Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday to protest outside the office of Attorney General Steve Marshall.

“Today took us by surprise. Some were expecting today’s outcome; some weren’t,” Iva Williams, of the Birmingham Justice League, told reporters Tuesday. “But nevertheless, we stay united in seeking social justice moving forward.”

The 26-page report released on the same day pieced together the rapid sequence of events that began with two gunshots just before 10 p.m. on Nov. 22, during early Black Friday shopping at the Galleria.

Erron Brown, the man who police later said was the actual shooter, allegedly shot 18-year-old Brian Wilson on the mall’s second-floor walkway and left him lying outside a JC Penney store. Brown ran toward the store as mall shoppers scurried away. Bradford, who was nearby, ran in the opposite direction. But he then turned around and headed toward the JC Penney and Wilson, with his gun drawn, the report says.

The officer and his partner, both of the Hoover Police Department, were behind him, just a few feet away. Believing that Bradford was about to kill Wilson, who was already bleeding with gunshot wounds, the officer fired four shots. He struck Bradford in the head, neck and lower back.

But what the officer didn’t see in the immediate chaos was Brown, who shot Wilson just seconds earlier, the report says.

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Witnesses told investigators that they heard the officer tell Bradford to drop his weapon. But the officer told investigators that he was unable to give verbal commands because of the “quickness of the event” and the “immediate threat” he believed Bradford posed, according to the report.

The report says that the officer’s actions were consistent with nationally-accepted standards for active shooter scenarios. That he mistakenly believed Bradford shot the victim “does not render his actions unreasonable,” the report says.

“First, a reasonable person could have assumed that the only person with a gun who was running toward the victim of a shooting that occurred just three seconds earlier fired the shots,” the report says, adding that the other officer and two other witnesses all said that, at that moment, they also believed Bradford was the shooter.

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Brown, 20, has been charged with attempted murder. His attorneys said he shot Wilson in self-defense, according to the report, which did not say how the two men knew each other. There has been no evidence that Bradford was involved in the shooting, and it remains unclear why he drew his gun.

The report also did not say whether he knew that the officers were behind him. Although the officer was wearing a body camera, he did not activate it before he shot Bradford. There was “no time” to do so, he told investigators.

Bradford’s parents and a family attorney said earlier that he had a concealed-handgun license. The officer, who was not named, was placed on administrative leave after the shooting, though it was not immediately clear if he has been reinstated. The Hoover Police Department have not responded to a request for comment Wednesday.

Outside Hoover City Hall on Tuesday evening, activists vowed to not stay silent. Bradford’s relatives, including his mother, held pictures of him in military uniform. (A spokesman for the Army told The Washington Post last year that Bradford began training but never completed it.)

“You shoot my firstborn son three times, three kill shots and you call this justice. How dare you. If this happened to your child, would you still call it justice? Because I don’t see any justice in this,” Bradford’s mother, April Pipkins, said in front of reporters, her eyes watery.

“He didn’t deserve what you did to him. . . . If you felt like he was a threat, you had to shoot him three times? And you say that the law justifies this? No verbal warning. Shame on you. Shame on you,” Pipkins continued.

Bradford lived just outside of Birmingham, a few miles from the mall. He was one of the nearly 1,000 people who were shot and killed by police in 2018, according to The Post’s database of police shootings, and is now among the many black men whose deaths have led to accusations of systemic racism in U.S. law enforcement.

Avi Selk contributed to this report.

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