Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was criticized for taking over the case of the shooting death of a black man by police, but his office says intervening in cases held by local district attorneys is common.
“We regularly assume prosecution of cases in which the local district attorney has a conflict and that has included officer-involved shootings,” says Joy Patterson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general. “Since Attorney General Marshall was sworn in, the attorney general’s office has handled nearly 90 cases for district attorneys.”
Marshall, a former district attorney, became attorney general in February 2017 and was elected to a full term in November.
State law says the attorney general may at any time “superintend and direct the prosecution of any criminal case in any of the courts of this state.”
But there was outcry last week when Marshall, citing a conflict of interest for District Attorney Danny Carr, announced his office would handle the probe into Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr.’s death. Bradford, who was armed, was killed by police who were responding to shooting at the Riverchase Galleria mall in Hoover on Thanksgiving night. Weeks of public protest followed.
Bradford’s family, protestors and some elected officials have said the case should have been left with newly elected Carr. He’s the first black district attorney in Jefferson County.
“The first time we elect a black district attorney, he gets the first high-profile case taken away from him,” says state Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham. He also said it’s rare to hear about the attorney general taking cases from local district attorneys.
But Luther Strange, Alabama attorney general from 2011 to early 2017, said it’s standard practice if there’s a conflict or when the attorney general is asked to oversee a case.
“We did it a number of times,” Strange told BirminghamWatch this week.
He handled the prosecution of a Madison police officer accused of assaulting an Indian man during a suspicious person investigation in 2015. Strange eventually moved to dismiss state misdemeanor assault charges against the officer.
Strange said that case was similar to the current Hoover situation in that both officers involved had worked closely with the district attorney’s office on several cases.
Troy King was Alabama attorney general from 2004 through 2010 and said he took over cases from local district attorneys when he “felt justice warranted it.”
He said it was usually because the district attorney had a conflict, or what could be a seen as a conflict by the public.
There were times the district attorney disagreed with his intervention, King said, but it was requested by the victims or victim’s family.
“I can’t think of a single case we took over without the DA asking us to or the victims asking us to,” King says.
Marshall’s office said Carr directly conveyed to Marshall the presence of perceived conflicts in this matter.
At least one protest leader involved in demonstrations over the Galleria shooting publicly supported Carr in his election campaign, and a photo of the two was posted on social media, the Associated Press reported.
Carr has said that, while the officer involved in the case has been the charging officer in other cases handled by the DA’s office, it is not unusual for his office to working with the Hoover Police Department.
Carr in a Thursday interview with WBRC, said he wanted to make it clear that he had not recused himself from the case.
In a statement after the intervention was announced said his office “stands ready and capable to proceed with this case based on the facts and evidence once provided, and the law as it currently exists.”
Rogers, the lawmaker, said the case should be handled by the locally elected prosecutor and if there was a conflict, an assistant district attorney could have taken over.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is heading the investigation into Bradford’s death. ALEA stepped in at the sheriff’s request because one of the potential witnesses is related to the sheriff-elect.
“We want all the facts laid out fair and square and let people see what’s going on,” Rogers says.
The night of his death, police initially said Bradford was the shooter who left two others injured. That statement was recanted a few hours later.
Erron Brown has been arrested in connection with the initial shooting.
Bradford’s family has said he was shot three times from behind. His is the 13th police-involved fatal shooting in the state this year, according to The Washington Post.