Ala. AG takes over mall shooting cases, citing conflict of interest

Alabama DA's objectivity in question

By CNN'S TINA BURNSIDE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
WBRC via CNN

(CNN) - The Alabama attorney general is taking over the cases surrounding the police shooting death of Emantic Bradford Jr. at a Hoover mall, saying "fair-minded persons" might question the district attorney's objectivity.

A Hoover police officer working mall security Thanksgiving night killed Bradford following a shooting that left two people injured. Hoover police initially identified Bradford, 21, as the suspect, then recanted and said he brandished a weapon -- only to recant that statement as well.

Witnesses have said Bradford, armed with a permitted weapon, was helping mall patrons when the officer shot him in the back, family attorney Ben Crump has said.

In a letter to Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr, Attorney General Steve Marshall cited Carr's connections to both the Hoover police officer, who has not been identified publicly, and to protesters who have decried the Bradford shooting, saying the links warrant Carr's recusal.

"While I have no reason to believe that you are actually biased or compromised, I agree that other fair-minded persons might question your neutrality based on the information that you provided in the letter and during our private conversations," the attorney general wrote.

The National District Attorneys Association's prosecution standards state the conflicts warrant recusal in the potential prosecution of the officer, as well as in the prosecution of Erron Brown who has been charged in the initial shooting, Marshall said.

Local prosecutor acknowledged conflicts

According to Marshall's letter, Carr has conceded that the officer who is believed to have killed Bradford is a charging officer or witness in about 20 cases that his office is handling.

"A fair-minded defendant (or family member) in those cases could question whether you and/or your prosecutors are biased in favor of protecting the officer from prosecution because the officer's testimony may be important in his or her case," Marshall wrote.

"On the flip side," he continued, "you acknowledge personal relationships with some of the (protesters) who are calling for the officer who shot Mr. Bradford to be criminally prosecuted, which could lead a fair-minded person to question your bias in favor of indictment," the letter said.

The prosecution standard that Marshall cites indicates prosecutors should recuse themselves when a "fair-minded, objective observer (could) conclude that the prosecutor's neutrality, judgment, or ability to administer the law in an objective manner may be compromised."

Confusion from the outset

Hoover police initially said Bradford shot Brian Wilson, 18, in a suburban Birmingham mall and that an officer killed Bradford as he fled. Molly Davis, 12, also was shot, police said, adding it wasn't clear by whom.

Police later changed the story, saying witnesses and forensic tests indicated that while Bradford may have been involved in an altercation, he likely did not fire the rounds that injured the victims.

His family has said Bradford was not at the mall with any of the victims or the suspect. He went there with his cousin and two friends, and possessing a permit to carry a weapon, pulled out his gun after the shooting began. He was helping people escape danger when he was killed, the family says.

Police later issued another statement saying Bradford had "brandished" a weapon but recanted those remarks as well, saying Bradford "had a gun in his hand" when police shot him.

Brown, 20, was arrested days later in Georgia and charged with attempted murder in Wilson's shooting, police said. Brown's attorney has said video will clear his client of any crime. No charges have been filed in the shooting of the 12-year-old.

The officer who shot Bradford is on paid administrative leave pending a state investigation. Bradford Jr.'s official autopsy report hasn't been released to the public.

'My son was murdered'

The family has said its independent medical review showed Bradford had been shot three times in the back. The bullets struck him beneath his ear, at the base of his neck and just above his buttocks, Crump told CNN, repeating his demand that all bodycam and surveillance footage be released to the public.

"For whatever reason, the police shot him as he was running away like everybody else, and it's just inexplicable to EJ's parents and family," he said.

Added Emantic Bradford Sr.: "My son was murdered, and the officer that shot him was a coward, and it hurt me because my son was moving away from gunfire. He was running like everybody else, and you shot my son three times in the back. That's murder any way you look at it, and the facts speak for themselves."

CNN has repeatedly asked Hoover police to clarify its statements on Bradford Jr.'s involvement in the Thanksgiving night altercation. It doesn't appear clarity is imminent, as Hoover police and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which is leading the investigation, said last week they won't release any evidence in the near future.

"While we maintain our commitment to be fully transparent during this process, we must respect the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency's request for full cooperation and continue to have faith in the judicial process. We want the whole truth, unimpeded and not delayed," Hoover police Chief Nick Derzis said Monday in a statement.

Protests have sporadically erupted since the shooting, most notably last week when demonstrators reportedly faced off with police at a shopping center and shut down a portion of Interstate 459.

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