Four days after 21-year-old Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. was killed in an Alabama mall by a police officer who mistook him for an active shooter, local authorities offered their “deepest sympathies” in a statement.
But they also shirked responsibility for his Thanksgiving night death, blaming the slain U.S. Army veteran for pulling out his gun while he fled the scene where the violence erupted.
“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 City of Hoover and the Hoover Police Department said in a joint statement.
“We extend sympathy to the family of Emantic J. Bradford of Hueytown, who was shot and killed during Hoover Police efforts to secure the scene in the seconds following the original altercation and shooting,” the statement added. “The loss of human life is a tragedy under any circumstances.”
The chaos began Thursday night, when a fight broke out near a J.C. Penney outlet and a Foot Action sneaker shop on the second floor of Hoover’s Riverchase Galleria, about an hour south of Birmingham. One of the men involved in the altercation pulled out a gun and fired at the other before running farther into the mall, Hoover Police Capt. Greg Rector said.
Two uniformed police officers stationed at the mall ahead of Black Friday encountered Bradford, who is black, soon after the gunfire erupted, Rector added. Mistaking him for the gunman, an unidentified officer shot and killed him. The first shooting victims were an 18-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, both of whom were wounded in the gunfire and both of whom survived.
Hoover Police initially praised the “heroic” officer who killed Bradford and “protect[ed] thousands.” But one day later, Rector retracted the initial statement in a Friday night news release, noting that although Bradford was “brandishing a handgun,” he “likely did not fire the rounds that injured the 18-year-old victim.”
“We regret that our initial media release was not totally accurate, but new evidence indicates that it was not,” he said. The actual suspected gunman is still at large.
That announcement sparked furious backlash. On Saturday, a group of protesters returned to the mall carrying signs that read “Emantic’s Life Matters” and “No police gun violence,” The New York Times reported.
Bradford’s parents, who claim the police department never notified them of their son’s death, reportedly learned their son was dead by watching the news—and even after they called police to confirm the death, they say, no one returned their calls.
“That is no way to learn of your child’s death,” Bradford’s mother, April Pipkins, told ABC News. “How would you want to be treated? Nobody should have to go through this, to see their son on TV, on social media.”
“I'm outraged as a mother because I carried him for nine months,” Pipkins added. “As a mother, no one understands how I feel. It’s like someone ripped my heart out.”
On Sunday, Bradford’s father—who is said to have worked as a food-service supervisor at the Birmingham Police Department—spoke on CNN to condemn the officer who shot his son. He appeared alongside his lawyer, Benjamin Crump, a civil-rights attorney who also represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice.
“It’s just troubling, when you see this pattern where there’s Jemel Roberson in Chicago, and now here, in Birmingham, the epicenter of the civil-rights movement, where the suggestion by the top leaders in our country is that if the good guys had guns, maybe they could help with some of these mass shootings of the bad guys who have guns,” Crump said, alluding to the Nov. 12 fatal police shooting of a black security guard who had successfully pinned down a gunman during a shooting at a nightclub before he was killed.
“If you’re black and you’re a good guy with a gun,” Crump added, “the police [don’t] see you as a good guy. They see you as a criminal and they shoot and kill you.”
Early Thursday morning, hours before Bradford’s death, the Hoover Police Department had posted some Thanksgiving cheer to the city’s residents:
“Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!” the department wrote. “Hope you have a safe holiday weekend. Call us if you need us.”