2018 Riverchase Galleria shooting
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 on the upper level near JC 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. The State Bureau of Investigation division of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency conducted the investigation of the entire incident. Attorney General of Alabama assumed responsibility for possible prosecution of the police-involved shooting after it was found that some of those involved in public protests had also participated in Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr's election campaign. Attorney General Steve Marshall announced in February 2019 that his office had determined that the officer was justified in using deadly force.
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.
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 injured by gunshot and was taken to UAB Hospital for treatment. He and his accused shooter, Erron Martez Dequan Brown of Bessemer, had been involved in a previous altercation. Witnesses said Wilson, who trained as a boxer, approached Brown and slapped and punched him before Brown pulled a gun and shot Wilson in the stomach.
Brown's attorney, Charles Salvagio denied the speculation that the shooting arose from a fight over newly-released athletic shoes and announced that his client would plead not guilty by self-defense. Roosevelt Poole and Eric Parker, who were at the mall with Brown, both testified that Wilson had initiated the fight. According to both of them, after leaving the scene, Brown said, "I think I killed him," but his friends reassured him that if that were true, it would be self defense. The three saw each other over the weekend in Tuscaloosa. When they returned to Birmingham, they learned that someone had fired at Poole's house. Brown was scared and drove to Fairburn, Georgia to stay with an uncle.
Meanwhile Brown was charged with Wilson's attempted murder. U.S. Marshals located him on November 29 in Georgia and took him into custody. The uncle had been unaware of the shooting and led Marshals to bags of clothing Brown had brought with him. A handgun compatible with two .40 S&W casings found at the scene was recovered in one of the bags. That weapon had been reported stolen in earlier in 2018. Brown's bond was initially set at $125,000, but the amount was reduced by Judge William Bell Jr to $60,000 at a preliminary hearing in January 2019, partly based on evidence that Brown had a pistol permit at the time.
At a follow-up hearing on January 22, state investigators explained that Brown had been issued a pistol permit on April 27, 2018, but it had been revoked when after Brown was involved in a shooting in August. Salvagio requested to be removed from the case during the same hearing.
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. No one has been charged with firing the round that injured Bennett.
Investigators recovered six shell casings from the scene. Another handgun was found lying in the "Santa’s Village" area after the mall reopened on Friday morning.
Bradford had attended high school with Brown, Poole, Parker and Wilson, and had sent Poole a Facebook message from the mall to ask where he could meet up with them. According to Poole, Bradford had just walked up to shake his hand when the shots rang out nearby and Wilson fell to the ground. Brown, Poole and Parker fled through J.C. Penney to the parking lot. Surveillance video showed that Bradford pulled a handgun from his waistband and was standing over Wilson and "pointing it in several different directions" immediately after the first shooting.
Bradford was shot and killed by a 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. Later the family also stated that bodycam footage showed two officers "fist-bumping" after Bradford's shooting.
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.
Four of the six shell casings recovered from the scene were matched with police service weapons.
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 Frank Brocato joined Murphy in expressing 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.
After weeks of nightly protests, Hoover city officials offered to put together a "Race Relations Roundtable" with an inclusive group of stakeholders to make recommendations for how to improve community relations and study police statistics to help determine whether changes in the department's policies are warranted. In City Manager Allan Rice's words, "We don't believe we have a policing problem, but if we do, let's find out."
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 and reviewing the actions of state officials, but has not announced any formal investigation of its own into possible civil rights violations.
On December 13 Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced that his office would take over the investigation after Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr enumerated several possible conflicts of interest, including acquaintanceship with some of the protesters. Crump, the attorney representing the Bradford family, objected to taking the investigation away from the county's first African American District Attorney and asked for the investigation to be returned to him or to Lynneice Washington from his office.
Witness testimony regarding the dispute between Brown and Wilson, as well as Bradford's actions, became public in 2019 preliminary hearing for Erron Brown.
Attorney General Steve Marshall announced on February 5, 2019 that his office had reviewed the results of the SBI's investigation and determined that "Officer 1", as he was referred to in the report, "identified E.J. Bradford as an immediate deadly threat to innocent civilians and thus shot Bradford to eliminate the threat," and therefore, that he, "did not commit a crime under Alabama law when he shot and killed E.J. Bradford and thus the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct preclude presentation of this case to a grand jury."
Public protests of Bradford's death and the handling of the case by police and other officials began as soon as it was announced that Bradford had not fired his gun. Groups involved in organized protests included "Justice League," "Black Lives Matter," "Women of the Movement", and the "Outcast Voters League". Bradford's family joined many of the protests, as well.
On Saturday November 24 around 200 people 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 that weekend were held at Kelly Ingram Park and outside of the Hoover Public Safety Center on Monday, November 26. The Monday evening protest included a march down U.S. Highway 31 to the Galleria and back, blocking traffic. Le'Darius Hilliard and Carlos Chaverst Jr of the Outcast Voters League emerged as the most vocal leaders of the protest groups.
After the Hoover City Council declined to take public comments at their specially-called meeting on November 27 Chaverst pledged that, "If we have to shut down the entire city of Hoover, we will do that." He and Hilliard led a group of about 35 protesters outside Mayor Frank Brocato's home. A few days later 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.
On Tuesday December 4 a group of around 100 protesters marched through Wal-Mart on John Hawkins Parkway. After leaving the area, the group's motorcade was escorted to I-65 North by police, who blocked other highway ramps. 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. A fire alarm was pulled during the action, which lasted about 10 minutes, and two security guards claimed to have suffered injuries while attempting to corral protesters.
Hoover Police issued warrants for many of those involved in the demonstration on I-65. Some of those protesters, including Chaverst, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct during the next several days.
On Monday December 17 Justice League adviser Iva Williams III met with Hoover city officials, who pledged to make substantive efforts to address the protesters' concerns. The group temporarily suspend their daily public demonstrations pending further talks and outlined the conditions they expected Hoover to agree to before December 21.
Chaverst organized a "silent protest" in the mall for the evening Sunday December 23. He was presented with a trespass warning that mall owners had signed the previous week and told he would be arrested if he returned to the property before December 15, 2019.
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.
Bradford's father and other family members met with representatives of the Attorney General's office shortly before the AG's report clearing the officer of any criminal charges was released to the public. Afterward Bradford Sr expressed anger at the finding, which he called a "cover-up," and called the officer and AG Marshall "cowards" for not accepting responsibility for his son's death.
- "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
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- "Week One Update" (November 26, 2018) Joint Statement: City of Hoover, Alabama and Hoover, Alabama Police Department, Officer-Involved Shooting on November 22, 2018
- Beahm, Anna (November 26, 2018) "After mall shooting, Hoover leaders to meet over possible litigation." The Birmingham News
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- Reeves, Jay (December 3, 2018) "The Latest: Autopsy: Black man shot 3 times in his back side." Associated Press
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- Johnson, Roy S. (December 6, 2018) "Lawyers for E.J. Bradford’s family viewed mall shooting video." 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
- Dunigan, Jonece Starr (December 11, 2018) "Alabama activists host protest training after Galleria shooting." The Birmingham News
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- Robinson, Carol (December 17, 2018) "Bradford family lawyer urges state to return mall shooting prosecution to Jefferson County." The Birmingham News
- Anderson, Jon (December 18, 2018) "Protesters call for temporary halt to protests over Hoover police shooting." Hoover Sun
- Anderson, Jon (December 26, 2018) "Riverchase Galleria shooting leads to discussion of broader issues." Hoover Sun
- Hrynkiw, Ivana (January 17, 2019) "Man charged in Galleria shooting fired in self-defense, lawyer claims." The Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (January 22, 2019) "AG opposes lower bond in Riverchase Galleria shooting; suspect attorney withdraws from case." The Birmingham News
- "Attorney General’s Report Regarding the Officer-Involved Shooting Death of Emantic ('E.J.') Bradford, Jr. At the Riverchase Galleria on November 22, 2018" (February 5, 2019) Office of the Attorney General, State of Alabama - accessed February 5, 2019
- Hrynkiw, Ivana (February 5, 2019) "'My son was murdered’: EJ Bradford’s family outraged by mall shooting decision." The Birmingham News
- Johnson, Roy S. (February 5, 2019) "In our open-carry state, it’s reasonable to wonder what that truly means." The Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (February 9, 2019) "EJ Bradford shooting under federal review, US Attorney says." The Birmingham News