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Alabama Police Reverse Course And Now Say Mall Shooter Is Still At Large

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Police in Alabama now say they may have killed an innocent black man. It happened on Thanksgiving night. A fight broke out in a crowded mall in Hoover, a suburb just south of Birmingham. Shots were fired, and when the chaos subsided, 21-year-old Emantic Bradford Jr. was dead. From member station WBHM, Gigi Douban reports.

GIGI DOUBAN, BYLINE: A few hours after police officer fatally shot Emantic Bradford Jr, known to his friends and family as E.J., Hoover police held a briefing for reporters. By then they'd cleared out shoppers and closed the mall early for the night. Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato told reporters he was proud of the job police did.

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FRANK BROCATO: They acted with such heroism. They acted appropriately and quickly.

DOUBAN: Now people demanding justice say police acted too quickly. Here's what happened. There was a fight at the mall a little before 10 o'clock p.m. There were gunshots, and two people were wounded. Police say Bradford fled the scene while brandishing a gun, and later police announced they'd found the gunman and killed him. Less than 24 hours later, the police department issued a statement saying that on further investigation, Bradford likely wasn't the man who fired shots that night and that the real gunman is still at large. Bradford's younger brother, Clemon Brown, says he was devastated to learn of Bradford's death on social media.

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CLEMON BROWN: We weren't even contacted. I had to get on Facebook to see a video of him shot, bleeding. No police officers covered him up at all.

DOUBAN: Bradford's mother, April Pipkins, says Thanksgiving won't ever be the same. She describes her son as caring, saying he would give you the shirt off his back.

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APRIL PIPKINS: He loved people, period. He loved people. He was not a killer.

DOUBAN: But that's how police painted him, according to Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney retained by Bradford's family.

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BENJAMIN CRUMP: There could be no mistake about it. They were lied to when they were told their son was a murderer.

DOUBAN: Crump has represented families in several high-profile cases, such as that of Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown, the unarmed black 18-year-old who was shot by police in Ferguson, Mo. Crump and the Bradford family called on police to release all video footage, including mall surveillance, police body cams and witness videos.

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CRUMP: It's real simple. Don't say no more. Show the video. This family does not trust your words.

DOUBAN: The investigation is now in the hands of the state's top law enforcement agency, the State Bureau of Investigations. Hoover says it will conduct its own internal investigation. Neither responded to a request for comment. In the meantime, the family says it will not let up. There's a protest set for tonight in Hoover. For NPR News, I'm Gigi Douban in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.