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Alabama Attorney General Says Controversial Police Shooting Was Justified

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Alabama today, the state attorney general announced that a controversial police shooting at a mall on Thanksgiving night was justified. Now, here's what is not in dispute. After hearing gunfire, a police officer shot and killed a black man running away from the chaos - a man, it was later determined, who did not fire a single shot. The AG says the officer will not be charged in the shooting. Gigi Douban of member station WBHM in Birmingham joins us with more.

Hi, Gigi.

GIGI DOUBAN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: How does the attorney general explain this decision?

DOUBAN: Well, this is all laid out in a 24-page report that the attorney general released today. So Attorney General Steve Marshall says that, essentially, the police officer who killed Emantic - E.J. Bradford Jr. was justified. He says the use of force on Bradford, even though Bradford was fleeing, was reasonable because officers feared he posed a threat. Now, we should note this all happened very quickly. The entire incident unfolded in less than five seconds. But there were lots of surveillance recordings, cell phone videos and dozens of witnesses to the shooting or its aftermath. And the attorney general draws on those in his report.

KELLY: And I want to get to a little bit more depth of what that report says. But first, just what has been the reaction to this news in Birmingham today?

DOUBAN: Well, there's been lots of unrest. That night, police told reporters they killed the suspect. But then the next day, they said Bradford likely was not the man involved in the original shooting. And that set off waves of protests and unrest. So you saw marchers demonstrating in front of the mayor's house. They stopped traffic on busy streets and interstates. And for a time, they protested daily at stores across the area as the investigation dragged on with few details.

KELLY: And has the family of Emantic Bradford spoken out?

DOUBAN: They have today, as a matter of fact. Here's their attorney Ben Crump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENJAMIN CRUMP: The police officers put in their own report that they didn't give him any verbal warning.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: None.

CRUMP: So when E.J. is running away from them, nobody says, freeze. Nobody said, stop.

DOUBAN: Bradford's father, Emantic Sr., was more blunt. He said Alabama has long had a struggle with racism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EMANTIC BRADFORD: We're in Alabama. It's still cool to kill a black man.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Still cool.

BRADFORD: And it still do take us back to the civil rights days.

KELLY: I mean, you can hear how strong the emotions are running. And I wonder - to get back to this report out today - does it acknowledge any of that? Does it acknowledge the context and just quite how powerfully this has affected people in Alabama?

DOUBAN: Well, a lot of the report is spent sort of - outlining the ways in which this report - this police officer's actions were justified. It does note that the 9 mm gun that Bradford was carrying was fully loaded. And there was no evidence it was fired at the scene. The police officers who were working in the mall were all wearing body cams. But they weren't recording until after the shootings because there was, quote, "no time" because of the urgency of the event. The report says that's in line with department policy because of limited battery life and digital storage.

KELLY: And what about the fact that Bradford was running away from the police officer when he was shot?

DOUBAN: So it's unclear whether the officer told Bradford to stop running or drop his weapon. The officer said he didn't give Bradford any such warning. But two witnesses say they heard him warn Bradford three times. And it's worth mentioning that we still don't know anything about the officer who killed Bradford or the other officer involved because their names were blacked out in this report.

KELLY: And just briefly - what happens next? Is this the end of the road in terms - at least legally - of how this case plays out?

DOUBAN: Well, we have heard reports that the family plans to file a civil suit against the government. But even before learning about today's report, last night, protesters said they plan to continue to demonstrate.

KELLY: Gigi, thanks very much.

DOUBAN: You're welcome.

KELLY: Gigi Douban is with member station WBHM in Birmingham, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOE'S "KODOKUNOHATSUMEI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.