2018 Riverchase Galleria shooting

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The 2018 Riverchase Galleria shooting was a fatal incident that took place inside the Riverchase Galleria shopping mall during early "Black Friday" shopping at 9:52 PM on Thanksgiving night, November 22, 2018. Two people were injured in the initial violent outbreak outside of the Foot Action store near J C Penney: Brian Wilson, 18, and Molly Bennett, 12. Another man, Emantic Fitzgerald "E. J." Bradford Jr, 21, a friend of Wilsons, was fatally shot by a Hoover Police officer in the immediate aftermath. Eight others were treated at the scene for injuries suffered while attempting to flee from the scene, with six of them transported to hospitals. Additional gunshots were reported outside of the mall shortly afterward, with no injuries reported.

The mall reopened for holiday shopping at 6:00 AM on Friday, November 23.

Context

The Galleria was scheduled to be open on Thanksgiving Day from 3:00 PM to midnight, with most stores open from 6:00 PM to either 10:00 PM or midnight. In addition to the Galleria's own private security staff, numerous on-duty Hoover Police Department officers were present inside and around the mall to help with traffic and crowd control under a "protection plan" developed to address public safety concerns arising from holiday shopping. As part of that plan, a Hoover Police Mobile Command Center was deployed to the Costco parking lot near the Galleria.

A year earlier, a fight broke out on the second floor of the Galleria outside Buckle at 11:20 PM on Thanksgiving night, leading the mall to close 40 minutes early. Reports of gunfire heard outside of the mall that night could not be confirmed by investigators.

Initial shooting

The initial shooting took place during an argument between two or more people on the mall's upper level, near the Foot Action store. 18-year-old Brian Wilson was shot in the stomach and was taken to UAB Hospital for treatment. Erron Martez Dequan Brown of Bessemer was identified as a suspect in the shooting. He was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals on November 29 at the home of a relative in Fairburn, Georgia and charged with the attempted murder of Brian Wilson.

A 12-year-old girl from Calera, Molly Bennett, was at the mall with her grandmother. She was struck in the back by a bullet which broke one of her ribs. She was taken to Children's Hospital for emergency treatment and quickly stabilized. The injury did not affect her spine and she is expected to recover, though the bullet was not removed. Investigators have not said whether Brown is suspected of firing the round that injured Bennett.

Investigators believe that the fight broke out between an undetermined number, described as a "small group" of young men who were previously acquainted. Brown's attorney, Charles Salvagio, referred to the outbreak as part of an "ongoing thing" rather than a sudden disagreement. He denied the speculation that it was a fight over newly-released athletic shoes.

A handgun was found lying in the "Santa’s Village" area after the mall reopened on Friday morning.

Police shooting

Bradford, believed to be a friend of the other male who was wounded by gunfire, was shot and killed by the police officer rushing to the scene. It was initially reported that Bradford had been responsible for the initial shooting. Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis stated that, "Thank God we had our officers very close. They heard the gunfire, they engaged the subject, And they took out the threat."

Later investigation suggested that while Bradford "may have been involved in some aspect of the altercation," that his gun had not been fired, and that he may have been one of several people seen drawing personal firearms in the immediate aftermath of the first shooting.

Police have stated that Bradford "brandished" his gun, and that he refused to follow officers' instructions before he was shot. A later statement, released on November 26, clarified that they used the term "brandished" because Bradford was holding his gun, and not to refer to any other specific actions. Members of Bradford's family have provided a different account, saying that he was helping usher people from the area, that his gun was tucked into his waistband, and that after shooting him in the face, police refused to allow him medical treatment.

Through their attorney Ben Crump, Bradford's family hired pathologist Roger Mitchell to examine Bradford's body. On Monday December 3 Crump held a press conference announcing the findings, saying that Bradford was shot three times; in the torso, neck and head. According to him all three bullets struck him from behind and toward the right side.

Crump, along with fellow attorneys Rodney Barganier and Frankie Lee, viewed about 30 seconds of bodycam footage at the offices of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency on November 29, at the invitation of Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr and Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynneice Washington. The attorneys met with ALEA investigators the following day and later issued a statement saying that what they saw was consistent with the independent pathologist's report.

Aftermath of police shooting

Hoover City Council member Derrick Murphy and Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson organized a meeting between Bradford's family and Hoover city officials in a conference room at the Westin Birmingham on the evening of November 27. Mayor Brocato and Murphy expressed their condolences, and Police Chief Derzis apologized personally and on behalf of his department for the false statements made about Bradford. They answered questions from the family and joined them in prayers.

Following that meeting, the Bradford family spoke at an event honoring E. J.'s life at 16th Street Baptist Church. His mother, April Pipkins, was overcome with emotion and collapsed during that event. She was taken to a hospital for an overnight evaluation.

A vigil for Bradford was held at Kelly Ingram Park on November 29. His parents spoke to the crowd and other speakers, including Wanda Stephens of Mothers Who Want the Violence to Stop, expressed hope that the trauma of his loss would promote unity and peace.

Bradford's funeral service was held on Saturday December 1 at Boutwell Auditorium. Rainbow PUSH Coalition founder Jesse Jackson delivered a eulogy.

Investigation

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office was initially asked to head the criminal investigation, but that responsibility was passed to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) by then Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton, because a relative of Sheriff-elect Mark Pettway was a potential witness.

The officer who confronted and shot Bradford was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of that shooting by ALEA and by Hoover's own internal affairs detectives. The officer was wearing a body camera, which was turned over to ALEA for examination.

Hoover officials were intensely pressured to release any footage from police body cameras, mall security cameras or from the public that would clarify what happened during the encounter between the police officer and Bradford. After days of insisting that only ALEA could make any determination to release information to the public, the city decided to formally request permission to release "limited information" in its possession and to discuss whether the department could release some information on its own regardless of ALEA's response.

Derzis announced on Monday, December 3 that ALEA secretary Hal Taylor sent the city a letter formally requesting that it not disclose any evidence pertinent to their investigation. On December 5, Judge William Bell Jr ruled that prosecutors must turn over evidence to attorneys representing Erron Brown.

The NAACP's Legal Defense Fund issued a letter to U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Jay Town requesting a federal investigation into the circumstances of Bradford's death. Town's office acknowledged the letter and stated that the Department of Justice is monitoring the case, but has not announced any formal investigation.

On December 13 Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced that his office would take over the investigation.

Protests

On Saturday November 24 around 200 people, including members of Bradford's family and affiliates of "Justice League." "Black Lives Matter" and the "Outcast Voters League", joined a protest outside of the Galleria's Macy's store and then proceeded to parade through the mall chanting and holding placards. Many mall tenants closed their entrances during the protest.

Other demonstrations were held at Kelly Ingram Park on Sunday November 25, and outside of the Hoover Public Safety Center on Monday, November 26. The evening protest included a march down U.S. Highway 31 to the Galleria and back, blocking traffic.

A number of protesters attended the specially-called Hoover City Council meeting on Tuesday, November 27. The council moved to go into executive session to discuss "pending or threatening litigation". The council's decision not to hear from or address the public was criticized by the protesters, and activist Carlos Chaverst Jr pledged that, "If we have to shut down the entire city of Hoover, we will do that." The city indefinitely postponed its annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, scheduled for November 29 at the Municipal Center.

Later the same evening a group of about 35 protesters gathered outside the Mayor Brocato's home and marched around the block. Le'Darius Hilliard and Chaverst of the Outcast Voters League led calls for accountability for Bradford's death.

On Friday, November 30 a group of about 85 protesters staged a "die-in" and wreath-laying near the site of the shooting on the mall's upper level, followed by a candlelight vigil outside the building, and a march around the mall that culminated with chants of "Stop shopping here," and "Not one more dime," inside the newly-opened Dave & Buster's.

On Sunday, December 2 Chaverst led a group of about two dozen protesters outside the AMC Patton Creek cinema. He berated the group of Hoover Police officers stationed outside the theater, which stopped selling tickets for the rest of the evening.

On Monday evening, December 3, around 70 protesters attended a Hoover City Council meeting, which was cut short after chants broke out during the public comment period. Afterward Outcast Voters League activist Le'Darius Hilliard outlined his group's demands for the resignations of Brocato, Derzis and police captain Gregg Rector as well as a new departmental policy on racial bias and the creation of a citizens' review board with subpoena powers. The protests continued at Sam's Club, where the activists used shopping carts to block the entrances, and then inside the Galleria, where several stores closed their entrances.

On Tuesday December 4 a group of around 100 protesters marched through Wal-Mart. Police closed the entrances and workers escorted customers out individually. The group later marched through the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. After leaving the area, the group's motorcade was escorted down U.S. Highway 150 and I-459 to I-65 north by police who blocked other highway exits. Upon reaching the I-65 onramp, a few of the cars stopped and demonstrators stood in the roadway, blocking traffic. The rest of the caravan was kept on the highway to beyond Lakeshore Drive. Hoover Police kept all entrances to I-459 in Hoover closed until the groups were dispersed.

Two weeks after the shooting, Hoover City Manager Allan Rice discussed the city's approach to protesters, touting the lack of violence or property damage, and encouraging residents not to be overly concerned: "People may [not] like some of the behavior they see or the things they hear, but that’s a different situation than public safety. They might be offended, but they’re not unsafe."

On Thursday December 6 a group of around 60 protesters blocked the driveway and entered the Ross Bridge Resort chanting, "Say his name, E. J.". Two security guards claimed to have suffered injuries while attempting to prevent protesters from entering the lobby and stairwell. A fire alarm was pulled during the action, which lasted about 10 minutes. Hoover police blockaded part of Alabama State Highway 150 afterward, and the group demonstrated outside the Hoover YMCA for another 15-20 minutes before dispersing. Protester Elijah King, who was driving Chaverst, was ticketed by Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputies for stopping on the highway. On the same day Anne Diprizio was arrested on U.S. Highway 31 outside the Hoover Municipal Complex for disorderly conduct. She was reportedly seen standing in traffic and throwing Christmas ornaments at cars, saying she was, "going to stop traffic until there was justice for E. J."

During the weekend of December 8-9, more than 100 people attended training sessions in nonviolent civil disobedience held at Avondale's Beloved Community Church.

On Sunday December 9 Mark Myles and Andy Baer were arrested at the Galleria on misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges stemming from the events on I-459 the previous Tuesday night. Myles was not protesting at the time of his arrest inside the mall, but, according to Chaverst, was "scoping out" the building. Myles was arrested again the next day when Mountain Brook Police pulled him over for an unspecified traffic violation and found marijuana in his vehicle.

Baer, a UAB professor in the History Department who lectures on 20th century policing and race, was pulled over on Galleria Circle. Another activist, Sherrette Spicer, Mark Myles' sister and local chair of the New Black Panther Party was arrested by Mountain Brook Police on an outstanding disorderly conduct warrant from the December 6 highway standoff. She was arrested when she went to claim her car, which Myles had been driving.

Chaverst was arrested on the evening of Tuesday, December 11 at the start of a protest outside the Hoover Public Safety Center. He was charged with three counts of disorderly conduct and one count of "loitering with a mask", because he had been wearing a bandana over his face. Another protester, Martez Lamar Parker, was arrested on the same loitering charge during a protest at The Grove shopping center on Wednesday, December 12. Some businesses asked protesters to leave and some locked their doors, while others allowed the protesters to enter.

Lawsuits

Bradford's family retained Tallahassee, Florida-based civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump Jr to gather information about his death at the hands of police and to represent their interests in potential legal action.

The Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Alabama NAACP have submitted public records requests for documents related to policies and training on racial bias and the use of body cameras by police officers in Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, Hoover, Huntsville, and Saraland. All those departments have been accused of using excessive force, with Bradford's death the most recent and most dramatic example.

References

  • "Hoover Police Ready for Holiday Shopping Season 2018" (November 20, 2018) Hoover Police Department press release
  • Robinson, Carol (November 24, 2018) "Riverchase Galleria Thanksgiving shooting: 2 injured including girl, 12; man killed by Hoover police." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (November 24, 2018) "12-year-old shot at Riverchase Galleria ‘hurting but brave,’ mother says." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (November 24, 2018) "Man killed in Alabama mall shooting 'likely did not fire’ shots that injured 2, police say." The Birmingham News
  • Hrynkiw, Ivana (November 24, 2018) "Protesters call for boycott after Alabama mall shooting, demand release of body cam footage." The Birmingham News
  • Johnson, Roy S. (November 25, 2018) "Police ‘saw young black man with a gun’ and shot him, father says after Galleria police killing." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (November 25, 2018) "Woman, 70, airlifted to Mobile with internal, brain bleeding from fall after Alabama mall shooting." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (November 26, 2018) "Hoover offers ‘deepest sympathies’ after deadly Alabama mall shooting, vows transparency." The Birmingham News
  • "Week One Update" (November 26, 2018) Joint Statement: City of Hoover, Alabama and Hoover, Alabama Police Department, Officer-Involved Shooting on November 22, 2018
  • Robinson, Carol (November 26, 2018) "Riverchase Galleria shooting: What we don't know about the Hoover mall shooting." The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (November 26, 2018) "After mall shooting, Hoover leaders to meet over possible litigation." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (November 26, 2018) "12-year-old girl wounded in Alabama mall shooting released from hospital; mom seeks to help others." The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (November 26, 2018) "Riverchase Galleria shooting: Protesters shut down highway, march to mall." The Birmingham News
  • "Family of 18-year-old Galleria shooting victim releases statement." (November 27, 2018) WBRC.com
  • Johnson, Roy S. (November 29, 2018) "Hoover officials apologize to E.J. Bradford’s family for saying he was shooter." The Birmingham News
  • Hrynkiw, Ivana (November 29, 2018) "Galleria shooting: Jesse Jackson to deliver E.J. Bradford’s eulogy." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (November 29, 2018) "‘We will shut down Hoover if we have to,’ Alabama mall shooting protest organizer says." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (November 29, 2018) "Hoover may share mall shooting information if state won’t release video." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (November 29, 2018) "Suspect in Alabama mall shooting captured by U.S. Marshals in Georgia." The Birmingham News
  • Koplowitz, Howard (December 1, 2018) "Protesters stage die-in at spot in Hoover mall where E.J. Bradford was killed by police." The Birmingham News
  • Yurkanin, Amy (December 1, 2018) "Rev. Jesse Jackson calls for transparency from Hoover police." The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (December 2, 2018) "Hoover mall shooting: protest at theater ends ticket sales for the night." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (December 3, 2018) "Hoover will not release mall shooting video, details due to request from state investigators." The Birmingham News
  • Reeves, Jay (December 3, 2018) "The Latest: Autopsy: Black man shot 3 times in his back side." Associated Press
  • Beahm, Anna (December 3, 2018) "Hoover mall shooting: Protests continue at Hoover city council meeting, Sam’s Club." The Birmingham News
  • Stewart, Sherrel (December 3, 2018) "Protests Following Police Shooting Reveal Divide in the Black Community." WBHM.org
  • Victor, Daniel (December 4, 2018) "Black Man Killed by Police in Alabama Was Shot From Behind, Autopsy Shows." The New York Times
  • Robinson, Carol (December 5, 2018) "Hoover mall shooting protesters shut down I-459." The Birmingham News
  • Hrynkiw, Ivana (December 5, 2018) "Videos must be handed over to Galleria shooting suspect’s attorney, judge orders." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (December 6, 2018) "Hoover mall shooting: Officer-involved shooting investigations can last up to year, DA says." The Birmingham News
  • Johnson, Roy S. (December 6, 2018) "Lawyers for E.J. Bradford’s family viewed mall shooting video." The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (December 7, 2018) "Hoover mall shooting: Protests continue to Ross Bridge, Hoover YMCA." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (December 7, 2018) "2 Ross Bridge security guards hurt during Hoover mall shooting protests; criminal charges possible." The Birmingham News
  • Johnson, Roy S. (December 7, 2018) "Lawyer: Video ‘consistent’ with pathologist’s findings on police shooting of E.J. Bradford, Jr." The Birmingham News
  • "Hoover mall shooting: Many questions still unanswered 2 weeks later." (December 8, 2018) Associated Press/The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (December 8, 2018) "NAACP Legal Defense Fund requests federal investigation into Hoover mall shooting." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (December 9, 2018) "Hoover police arrest protester at Riverchase Galleria over last week’s Interstate 459 shut down." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (December 10, 2018) "UAB professor arrested near Riverchase Galleria over I-459 shut down." The Birmingham News
  • Dunigan, Jonece Starr (December 11, 2018) "Alabama activists host protest training after Galleria shooting." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (December 11, 2018) "3rd protester arrested over last week’s Interstate 459 shut down." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (December 11, 2018) "Protest leader Carlos Chaverst Jr. arrested on 4 warrants during demonstration outside Hoover jail." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (December 13, 2018) "Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall may take over Riverchase Galleria shooting case." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (December 13, 2018) "6th person arrested as latest Galleria shooting protest reaches Target." The Birmingham News