HOOVER, Ala. – Police in Alabama offered sympathy Monday to the family of a black man killed by an officer responding to a shooting at a shopping mall, but said the man's visible handgun "heightened the sense of threat" to police in an already chaotic scene.
Emantic "EJ" Bradford Jr., 21, was shot and killed by a police officer responding to a Thanksgiving night shooting that wounded two people at the Riverchase Galleria mall outside Birmingham.
Hoover police initially portrayed Bradford as the gunman saying officers acted heroically to "take out the threat" within seconds of shots being fired in the crowded mall. Then they retracted the statement, saying Bradford was likely not the gunman responsible for the initial shooting, who remains at large.
"He saw a black man with a gun and he made his determination he must be a criminal," Ben Crump, a lawyer for Bradford's family said during a Sunday news conference in Birmingham.
The family's lawyer said witnesses have contacted his law firm saying Bradford was trying to "wave people away from the shooting" and the officer did not issue any verbal commands to drop the weapon before shooting the 21-year-old.
Police said the details of what transpired remain under investigation.
Police and the city of Hoover on Monday issued more detailed statements on the shooting and the investigation. They said Bradford "had a gun in his hand as police officers responded to the active shooter situation between mall patrons."
"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 statement said. They later clarified the use of the verb "brandished" saying it meant Bradford was holding a gun.
"We are deeply and sincerely sympathetic to Mr. Bradford's grieving family and all of those affected by this incident. We all want answers and we believe that with patience and focus, the truth will be firmly established," the statement says.
Bradford's father said he wants to see body-camera video from the shooting.
The Monday police statement says "body camera video and other available video has been turned over to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) which is now investigating the shooting.
"Release of any video will be done as ALEA deems appropriate during the investigation," the statement said.
ALEA said Monday that the results of the investigation will be turned over to the district attorney's office.
The shooting sparked a weekend protest at the mall, with demonstrators chanting Bradford's name as they walked past Christmas shoppers to the spot where he was killed.
The city and police on Monday promised transparency and said they would begin offering weekly updates to the news media and public.
Bradford's father, a former longtime employee of the Birmingham Police Department, said his son had a permit to carry a concealed handgun. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, which issues concealed carry permits, referred questions to ALEA on whether Bradford had a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
The code of conduct posted on the Riverchase Galleria's website says firearms and illegal weapons are prohibited.
Family members expressed frustration and anger that the young man was initially presumed to be the shooter in the incident.
"I knew my son didn't do that. People rushed to judgment. They shouldn't have done that," Emantic Bradford, Sr. told The Associated Press.
The police also expressed sympathy for the family of the 18-year-old man and the 12-year-old girl who were wounded in the initial shooting and said they are "pursuing the initial shooter who still remains at large."