HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — The father of a black man killed by a police officer during a shooting at an Alabama mall said his son had a permit to carry a gun for self-defense, adding it was hurtful police initially portrayed his son as the shooter.
Emantic "EJ" Bradford Jr., 21, was fatally shot by the officer responding to the Thanksgiving night shooting that wounded an 18-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl bystander. Hoover police initially said they thought Bradford, who was carrying a handgun, was responsible but later retracted that statement. They subsequently said it was unlikely that Bradford had done the shooting.
Bradford's father, Emantic Bradford Sr., speaking Saturday night with The Associated Press, said the family wants to know if there is police body camera footage from the shooting. Police have not confirmed to AP whether such footage exists.
Hoover Police Captain Gregg Rector said investigators now believe that more than two people were involved in the initial fight ahead of the shooting, and that "at least one gunman" is still at large who could be responsible. Police said while Bradford Jr. "may have been involved in some aspect of the altercation, he likely did not fire the rounds that wounded the 18-year-old victim." Rector said police regret that their initial statement about Bradford was not accurate and added the shooting remains under investigation.
About 200 demonstrators marched Saturday evening through the Riverchase Galleria mall in suburban Birmingham and held a moment of silence for Bradford at the spot where he was killed.
The slain man's stepmother, Cynthia Bradford, described her stepson, who went by E.J., as a respectful young man whose father worked at a jail for the Birmingham Police Department. She also said of the initial police account: "We knew that was false."
The unanswered questions surrounding the shooting have stirred emotions in the suburb of the majority-black city of Birmingham.
Demonstrators on Saturday included several relatives, and they chanted "E.J" and "no justice, no peace" as they marched past Christmas shoppers at the mall.
Family members described their horror of finding out from social media that Bradford was dead. Video circulated on social media of Bradford lying in a pool of blood on the mall floor.
Bradford's father called his son, "a good kid, a very good kid."
Bradford Sr. said his son had a permit to carry a weapon in self-defense. He said he doesn't know exactly what happened at the mall but added: "They were so quick to rush to judgment. ... I knew my son didn't do that. People rushed to judgment. They shouldn't have done that."
Carlos Chaverst, an activist in Birmingham who organized Saturday's protest, said that when authorities acknowledged that the person killed was not the actual shooter, "that sent us in an uproar."
He said more protests will be held in the future to hold officials accountable.
"When we found out about this incident, there were questions from the jump. People were upset because a man was shot and killed by police in our own backyard," he said.
The incident began Thanksgiving night with a fight and shooting at the Riverchase Galleria, a mall crowded with Black Friday bargain hunters, according to authorities. An 18-year-old man was shot twice and a 12-year-old female bystander was shot in the back. Hoover police said Friday morning that the girl was in stable condition.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is investigating the incident since it is an officer-involved shooting. The Hoover Police Department is conducting its own internal investigation.
The officer who shot Bradford was placed on administrative leave while authorities investigate the shooting. The officer's name was not released publicly. The officer was not hurt.
Video posted on social media by shoppers showed a chaotic scene as shoppers fled.
A witness, Lexi Joiner, told Al.com she was shopping with her mother when the gunfire started. Joiner said she heard six or seven shots and was ordered, along with some other shoppers, into a supply closet for cover.
"It was terrifying," Joiner said.
Associated Press writer Chevel Johnson in New Orleans contributed to this report.