ASSASSINATE: transitive verb
1: to murder (a usually prominent person) by sudden or secret attack often for political reasons; a plot to assassinate the governor
2: to injure or destroy unexpectedly and treacherously; assassinate a man’s character;
“While, in life, he may not have fit the definition of a “prominent person,” the sudden theft of his earthly existence at the hands of police has now made him infamous. He has become a prominent symbol of protest. A conspicuous cadaver.
He was injured and unexpectedly destroyed. Before his family even had the chance to conjugate his life into past tense, the world was told that he was a current criminal. A formerly active shooter. But dead, just the same.
E.J. Bradford’s character and person were assassinated.
And all that remains in the dark, cavernous, blank spot where E.J. laughed, breathed and kissed his mother on her cheek, are unanswered questions. Why did this happen? How did this happen? Who did it? When will we find the answers to all of these questions? And more importantly...
Are we even asking the right questions?
On Tuesday evening, friends, family members, and concerned citizens gathered for the fourth consecutive day to demand answers for the questions surrounding the death of E.J. Bradford. A crowd of about 100 people joined Bradford’s parents at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, for an event celebrating their 21-year-old son’s life. Throughout the evening, speakers and attendees called for the Hoover Police Department to release any video or surveillance footage of the incident.
“Our request is very straightforward,” attorney Benjamin Crump told The Root. “You don’t need to say anymore. Show the video.”
“The reason this is so critical is that they’ve already lied on this family once,” said Crump, who is representing Bradford’s family. “They told the world that their son was a shooter and plastered his face all over the worldwide media.”
“We can’t forget that there is an armed shooter on the loose,” Crump explained. “It seems as if the police investigators are more worried about protecting a lone law enforcement officer than they are concerned with keeping the public safe.”
Later Tuesday evening, about 35 protesters held a demonstration outside the home of Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato. After previous protests at the city’s police department and at the Riverchase Galleria Mall (the site of Bradford’s death), the demonstrators chanted “Say no mo’, release the video!” vowing to protest Brocato every night until he or the HPD released any and all recordings of the incident.
But are they barking up the right tree?
Since Bradford’s death, The Root has spoken with several sources, including people inside Hoover’s police department, the city, and people familiar with Alabama police shooting investigations. They all said that, given the nature of the investigation, the police video of the incident might not show much. And if there is footage of Bradford’s death, citizens and protesters might be able to obtain the best copies of the footage themselves if they used the right strategies.
Within two hours of Bradford’s death, Captain Greg Rector of the HPD said the still-unnamed officer who allegedly shot Bradford was “in uniform” when the incident happened.
In a subsequent written statement, the Hoover Police Department acknowledged that the officer was working for the Riverchase Galleria Mall as private security when the incident happened, explaining:
Two uniformed Hoover police officers providing security at the mall were in close proximity and heard the gunshots. While moving toward the scene, one of the officers encountered a suspect brandishing a pistol and shot him. That individual, a 21-year-old male from Hueytown, was pronounced deceased on the scene.
The Root spoke with two Hoover police officers who were not authorized to speak on the case but agreed to talk under the conditions of anonymity. Both officers said that, as private security, HPD officers were required to adhere to the same departmental rules they followed while on duty, including wearing their body cameras.
So what will the body camera footage show?
According to the officers, they are supposed to engage their body-worn cameras anytime they interact with a citizen. This statement is confirmed by Rector in a 2015 interview, when the city of Hoover purchased the body cameras. But both officers said, in separate interviews, that the officer might not have engaged his body camera in the emergency situation.
“Nobody does that,” replied one officer, when asked if it is possible that the man who shot Bradford might have left his body camera running during the entire shift, since Bradford’s shooter was likely in contact with the public during his entire shift at the mall. “I don’t know anyone who would do that.”
But Hoover officers wear the popular Axon Body 2 cameras. The camera works in two modes: As long as the camera is powered on, it is in “buffer mode.” The camera still records video in buffer mode, but the video will not contain audio. The Axon manual explains it in detail:
When an officer hits record, the camera goes into “event mode.” In event mode, the camera will record both audio and video from “the moment you press double press the EVENT button.” The only part of the video that will be silent is the 30-second clip attached before the event button is pressed. There is no “delay.”
If the officer was following department rules, there should be video of the incident, even if there is no audio. Furthermore, if the camera was in event mode at least 30 seconds prior to Bradford’s shooting, there should at least be audio.
The Root’s request to the Hoover Police Department for body camera footage was declined. Our questions to the Hoover Police Department’s Executive Officer, Chief, and Investigative Services Captain about their bodycam policy were not answered. During our visit to the Riverchase Galleria, we noticed two police officers in the mall.
Both were wearing body cameras.
According to our own in-person visit to the Riverchase Galleria, The Root found seven surveillance cameras within 100 feet of where Bradford’s body was shown in cell phone videos obtained by The Root.
The surveillance camera placement was as follows:
- Two ceiling-mounted cameras (1,2) in JCPenney, closest to Bradford.
- One camera (3) mounted on the back wall of Game Stop.
- One wall-mounted camera (4) and one-ceiling mounted (5) camera between Lids and Claire’s
- One ceiling at the parking deck entrance (6)
- One camera inside Footaction (7)
Brookfield Property, which owns the Riverchase Galleria, did not respond to The Root’s request for comment.
There is one problem with the idea that Hoover’s mayor and police department are keeping the video of E.J. Bradford’s death a secret.
“There is no ‘tape’” said professor Joseph Pollini, a 33-year veteran of the New York Police Department. “To my knowledge, it’s all digital now,” the former detective told The Root.
As a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Pollini teaches major case investigations to college students and police forces in the U.S. and abroad. He says that video footage is usually downloaded and shared with investigators but the recording is usually kept on the hard drive or storage.
“It is possible that [investigators] seized the recording equipment,” he noted. “They may have said: ‘This is evidence of a crime’ and given them [the individual businesses] a receipt.”
Rosalind Sellers, a former prosecutor who has also represented leasing companies and retail outlets in civil liability litigation, disagrees. Sellers says that the possibility of lawsuits from the injured parties means the stores likely kept a copy of the unseen footage, citing her experience on South Carolina’s Fourth Judicial Circuit as a prosecutor and public defender, as well as her time spent defending civil claims for one of the countries largest insurers.
“I promise you, they [Brookfield Property and the stores] have that video,” said Sellers. “Once something happens that exposes a company to litigation, the first thing that the corporate offices, attorneys, and their insurance companies told them was to preserve all photographs, videos, and diagrams,” Sellers told The Root.
Even if the retail outlets and the mall turned over copies of the footage to law enforcement officers, Sellers explained that law enforcement officers could not confiscate the physical equipment from Brookfield properties, Finish Line, JCPenney or GameStop without a warrant.
Within two hours of the shooting, Hoover police officials immediately informed the public that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department would be handling the investigation because of the officer-involved shooting protocol.
The day after the shooting, Jefferson County had turned the investigation to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) because of a conflict of interest in the case (Bradford’s father, Emantic Bradford Sr. was employed by Jefferson County as a corrections officer).
While it is unclear if Jefferson County extracted and viewed the video, both HPD officers who spoke to The Root said that, while they had no knowledge of the specifics of the case, they understood that HPD never began an investigation.
The Hoover Police Department responded to The Root’s request for an interview by directing us to their public statement. Who can release the footage?
ALEA has refused to release any video, citing an ongoing investigation. The State Bureau of Investigation responded to The Root’s requests for comments with a statement, saying in part:
Once the SBI completes its investigation, the file in its entirety will be turned over to the Tenth Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. SBI does not release information in relation to ongoing/pending investigations.
But if Brookfield Property, the Galleria Mall, or the outlets still have copies, could they release it? Would that be a violation of the law? Pollini says that the police can’t mandate that the footage is kept secret.
“Could they order a private business to not share the video?” said Pollini. “They could request. Businesses have to work with police departments, so they [the businesses] would be likely to comply, but they aren’t legally bound from sharing the video with the public.”
Sellers agreed, explaining, “The police or the district attorney would need a gag order to stop a private business from sharing the video. Technically, it is the property of whoever recorded it.”
As for body camera footage, it is up to the police department and the city of Hoover.
On Thursday, Hoover Councilman Derrick Murphy, said that he may force the release of the video, despite ALEA’s insistence that keeping the video private is necessary to investigators.
“I’m making a request to ALEA to allow the City of Hoover to release the limited information we have,” Murphy said in a press conference on Thursday. “We urge ALEA to approve this request no later than noon on Monday. Chief Derzis and I have also discussed a follow-up plan in the event we don’t receive the information by Monday at noon. The chief will decide whether to release the limited information on his own.”
Murphy, Hoover’s lone black city councilperson, defended the ongoing protests as the mayor, one of the protester’s targets, stood next to him.
“Two nights ago, protesters exercised their constitutional right to peacefully protest outside the mayor’s home, Murphy said. “Now I wasn’t at the protest. I can’t tell you what was said. I can’t tell you who said it. I can tell you hate has no place anywhere in our city during the protests, from protesters, from counter-protesters, or on social media.”
Murphy noted that he has talked to the Mayor Bacato and the police chief about the issue and also condemned the racist online remarks by Hoover’s white citizenry, saying: “Regardless of what happened during a protest, some of the members of our community and outside of community took to social media after the protest and said some hateful, racist things that have no place in the city of Hoover.”
Murphy says the decision to release footage is ultimately up to the police chief. Protesters say they will continue to pressure the city’s leadership, the police department and the citizens. Hoover’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony scheduled for Wednesday was canceled because of the protests, and during The Root’s visit to the Riverchase Galleria on Wednesday night the mall was nearly empty.
Police still have not named the officer who shot Bradford, and the man whose shots allegedly initiated the incident was apprehended on Thursday. On Saturday, Reverend Jesse Jackson eulogized Bradford at an emotional funeral service. Hoover officials have finally contacted Bradford’s family to apologize for the shooting and now say they are committed to transparency and justice.
And 21-year-old E.J. Bradford, whose flame was suddenly and unexpectedly extinguished, will still be dead. All that remains is a boy’s blood, a father’s empty heart, and a mother’s tears. His death is not avenged. He is no more.
There is not, nor there can there ever truly be, justice for Emantic Bradford Jr.