An Alabama police officer will not be criminally charged for killing a young black man whom he had mistaken for the gunman in a shopping-mall shooting Thanksgiving night, the state attorney general’s office said Tuesday. The decision is likely to extend the debate over a tragedy at the intersection of gun rights and concerns over racial biases in policing.
The shooting death of Emantic F. Bradford Jr., 21, at the Riverchase Galleria mall in Hoover, Ala., prompted protests and raised questions about whether police officers are too quick to assume that a nonwhite person who is armed is a wrongdoer.
In a 24-page report, Attorney General Steve Marshall concluded that the Hoover police officer — identified only as Officer 1 — who shot Mr. Bradford had “reasonably exercised” his duties.
“Officer 1’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances and were consistent with his training and nationally accepted standards for ‘active shooter’ scenarios,” the report stated.
The police officer shot Mr. Bradford, who went by E.J., a few seconds after gunshots rang out at the mall on Nov. 22, sending shoppers racing for safety and leaving an 18-year-old man, Brian Wilson, injured by two bullets.
The officer, who was on duty at the mall, said in a statement that he had turned toward the sound of the gunfire with his weapon drawn, and saw an injured man clutching his stomach near a railing, with another man helping him. He said he also saw “an armed suspect” who was “quickly moving towards the two males standing near the railing.”
“The suspect was advancing on the two males and had a black handgun in his right hand,” the officer said. “I fired my duty weapon at the armed suspect to stop him.” That man was Mr. Bradford.
The officer said he thought Mr. Bradford was going to kill the two men, and the report said the officer had “mistakenly believed” Mr. Bradford had fired the initial shots.
The officer said he was unable to issue verbal commands before firing, “due to the quickness of the event and the immediate threat Bradford posed” to the two men he was approaching.
The police later arrested another man — Erron Martez Dequan Brown, 20 — and charged him with attempted murder in connection with the shooting of Mr. Wilson, the injured man by the railing.
The attorney general’s report said there was no evidence that Mr. Bradford’s handgun was fired at the mall.
The report said the F.B.I. had found no evidence to prompt an investigation into whether Mr. Bradford’s civil rights had been violated, a basis for federal prosecutions in cases that are otherwise under state jurisdiction. An F.B.I. spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.
The decision not to bring charges did little to quell the suspicions and anger of Mr. Bradford’s relatives and supporters. “I’m outraged,” his mother, April Pipkins, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “In no way was justice served.”
Some surveillance video images of the events at the mall were released on Tuesday. But Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for the family, said he believed there was additional footage that had not been released, and he demanded that the public be allowed to see it. In a prepared statement, he said that Mr. Bradford’s “only ‘crime’ was being black.”
Ashlyn McMillan, a witness to the mall shootings, told The New York Times that she considered Mr. Bradford a hero, saying that he had directed frantic shoppers to safety and had warned her to get down and seek cover inside a store.
A man named Roosevelt Poole filled in some of the night’s narrative blanks at a recent preliminary hearing in the case. According to the Alabama news website AL.com, Mr. Poole said that he and another man were with Mr. Brown, the suspected gunman, in front of the J.C. Penney store in the mall when Mr. Bradford, Mr. Wilson and about eight other people showed up.
Soon, Mr. Poole said, Mr. Wilson was slapping and punching Mr. Brown, the website reported. Mr. Brown’s lawyers say that he shot Mr. Wilson in self-defense.
The attorney general’s report said that video footage showed Mr. Brown and his friends running into the J.C. Penney store after the shots were fired. For his part, Mr. Bradford initially ran away from the store entrance after the shots, the report said, but then drew his weapon and chambered a round.
“Bradford then charges back toward J.C. Penney, gun drawn,” the report states.
Mr. Crump said in a telephone interview that he believed Mr. Bradford was in no way intending to engage in a shootout.
The attorney general’s report concludes that the officer’s initial mistaken belief that Mr. Bradford had shot Mr. Wilson did not render the officer’s actions “unreasonable.”
“First, a reasonable person could have assumed that the only person with a gun who was running toward the victim of a shooting that occurred just three seconds earlier fired the shots,” it said.
The report also asserted that Mr. Bradford “still posed an immediate deadly threat to persons in the area. Video evidence suggests that Bradford, who was carrying a firearm, was running toward the initial shooter, Erron Brown, who was also carrying a firearm. Multiple shoppers were nearby, including a mother and child directly in between the two armed men.”