It’s been one year since a Hoover police officer shot and killed a young black man in a crowded mall on Thanksgiving night. The shooting of 21-year-old Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. happened at the Riverchase Galleria Mall after officers wrongly thought he was the person who fired a gun in the mall. The incident led to several protests and calls for justice.
After a two-month investigation, Alabama’s Attorney General cleared the Hoover police officer of any criminal wrongdoing and so did the U.S. Department of Justice. But a lot of questions remain unanswered.
Randall Marshall is the director of the ACLU of Alabama. He says the group has filed an open records request with the 10th Judicial Circuit Court of Alabama to obtain Hoover Police body camera footage, documents used in the investigation and personnel files of the officers involved. But, he says, the city has not cooperated.
“They have been fighting tooth and nail to avoid turning over any information,” he said. “We had a hearing in front of the court a few weeks ago and we expect a decision any day now what, if any, information should be turned over.”
Marshall said there’s still a lot of secrecy surrounding Bradford’s death. One of the most glaring details still not known is the police officer’s identity.
“That’s highly unusual that a police officer on duty in his official capacity to shoot someone and they try and keep his name confidential. It’s pretty unheard of,” he said.
Sanja Kutnjak Ivkovich is a criminal justice professor who studies policing at Michigan State University. She said there’s one thing many police departments have in common.
“We found that there is a code of silence,” she said. “The question is not if there is a code of silence. The question is how extensive the code is and to whom it extends.”
That code of silence in Hoover’s police department has had ripple effects. The city’s handling of the investigation sparked racial tension. In an interview with WBHM shortly after last year’s shooting, Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato denied accusations of racism within the police department.
“We don’t believe we’re that kind of city,” he said. “We want to be a model for how this was handled, and we don’t want it to happen again.”
Brocato denied recent requests for an interview citing “pending litigation.” The Bradford family will soon file a wrongful death suit. That’s according to Rodney Barganier, who, along with civil rights attorney Ben Crump, represents the family. He said that once the records are released, they’ll begin to gather evidence.
“There’s a lot of discovery which we’ll have to go through, including taking the testimony of the officer that was involved in the shooting of EJ Bradford,” Barganier said. “Unlike a criminal matter, in a civil arena he’s gonna have to testify.”
Barganier says there’s a long road ahead. Once they file suit, he anticipates it’ll take at least another year for the courts to hand down a verdict.
Meanwhile, the alleged mall shooter in last year’s Thanksgiving incident remains behind bars. Randall Marshall, with the ACLU of Alabama, said charges against Erron Brown are still pending.
“In fact, it’s the uncertainty of what’s going on with that prosecution; that’s what the police chief is hiding behind,” Marshall says. “Hoover is saying that, ‘Well, we can’t release this information because it relates to an ongoing criminal investigation.’”
Marshall said that, sooner or later, more key facts around the shooting will be revealed. For now, it’s a waiting game.