BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Relatives of a black man killed by police in Alabama's largest shopping mall claimed Monday that a state takeover of the investigation is a bid by authorities to protect the officer.
Holding a photo of her son Emantic "EJ" Bradford Jr., April Pipkins said the move by Attorney General Steve Marshall to assume control of the probe seemed aimed at shielding the officer, who has yet to be named publicly.
The family's lawyers contend the case should have been left with newly elected Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr, who is black, or given to Lynneice Washington, another black district attorney who handles cases in the western part of the county.
"All the family wants is for justice to be served for my son," Pipkins said during a news conference. "By taking the case from Mr. Carr, we feel they are trying to protect this officer who killed by son."
Carr declined comment, but his office reissued a statement from last week saying it was capable of handling the investigation into Bradford's death at a shopping mall in suburban Hoover on Thanksgiving night.
Marshall said last week that his office was taking over the investigation to guard against any potential conflicts of interest involving local officials.
Joy Patterson, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said Monday that correspondence shows Carr "directly conveyed to Attorney General Marshall the presence of Carr's perceived conflicts in this matter" and that Marshall "acted on standard procedure to assume prosecution."
"The Attorney General's Office will ensure that the Hoover mall shooting cases are handled with the highest degree of fairness and professionalism as we pursue justice for all parties," Patterson said.
Washington said she doesn't believe Carr should have been removed from the case, and she doubts Marshall would now send the case to her.
The officer who shot Bradford is involved in about 20 cases pending with area prosecutors, officials said. At least one protest leader involved in demonstrations over the shooting publicly supported Carr in his successful bid to become Birmingham's first black district attorney.
Ben Crump, an attorney representing Bradford's family, said relatives were "very suspicious" of the grab by Marshall, a Republican appointee who won his first full term in office last month. The officer should be charged with murder if the evidence supports it, he said.
"They feel they're trying to protect this officer," Crump said.
Bradford, 21, was shot to death moments after gunfire erupted during a confrontation at the Riverchase Galleria, which was crowded with holiday shoppers. Police initially claimed Bradford was the gunman in that initial confrontation and said an officer shot him. They later said Bradford was not the shooter but an officer heard shots, saw Bradford with a gun and fired at him.
Relatives have said Bradford was licensed to carry a weapon.
A forensic exam commissioned by the family showed that Bradford was shot three times in the rear portion of his body, including once in the back of the head.
A brief portion of videotape reviewed by the family’s legal team supports evidence that indicates Bradford was moving away from the officer when he was shot, Crump said. Authorities have refused to publicly release video or other evidence, citing the continuing investigation.