Matthew Plowman, J.D.
General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer
Viridian found itself as part of news coverage in Alabama this past week surrounding the tragic Thanksgiving officer-involved shooting at a mall near Birmingham. In light of the recent news, associated with the Alabama Attorney General report and decision not to charge the involved police officer, that the police Body Cameras were not activated prior to the shooting, media outlets have inquired about our Weapon Mounted Camera. There had been previous Birmingham-area media coverage of the Viridian WMC adopted by other Alabama agencies, which has informed Alabama viewers that our device records automatically when the officer’s gun is drawn. We believe the WMC would have captured this event.
ABC 3340 News: Weapon-Mounted Cameras and the OIS in Hoover, AL
WVTM Birmingham news: Moody Police department testing out Viridian Weapon-Mounted Camera Technology
Our analysis in review of officer-involved shootings nationwide is that Body Cameras are not activated at all in approximately 11% of OIS events where they are deployed by the involved agency (see chart below), inevitably adding further mistrust and controversy to these traumatic situations. This tragic event is, unfortunately, going to be no exception.
This is a tragedy all the way around in events that transpired within about 5 seconds, inadequate time to yield sufficient answers. Essentially, a companion of EJ Bradford was shot during a brief altercation. Bradford, legally permitted to own and carry a gun in Alabama, drew his firearm presumably upon awareness of the gun shots and ran (after starting in the opposite direction) toward the initial shooting victim (reportedly one of his companions that evening). At the same time, two officers from the Hoover PD, upon hearing the gun shots from about 75 feet away, immediately drew firearms and ran toward the situation. The officers immediately came upon Bradford from behind as he was running toward the initial victim with his gun drawn while numerous bystanders (and the admitted shooter) were fleeing. The surveillance videos at the mall show the obvious chaos. The Hoover officer, who states that he perceived a threat to the public due to Bradford running with a gun drawn, immediately shot and killed Bradford. All within 5 seconds – less time than it took to read this paragraph.
Looking at it from the general public or layman’s view based on the media coverage, there is no indication either EJ Bradford or the officers acted wrongfully. Bradford had a permit for his firearm and was apparently using it in defense of a companion who was just shot with a threat still imminent. The officers acting in a very chaotic situation saw a person running with a gun toward a crowd of people where a person had just been shot and perceived an immediate threat to the masses of people, forcing a split-second decision. Accordingly, the officers were cleared by the Alabama AG of criminal wrong-doing.
The surveillance video, while providing general context of the event, unsurprisingly, does not provide adequate detail to explain anyone’s actions. The officers testified that there was not sufficient time to activate their Body Cameras. We agree. In this circumstance with an immediate active shooter situation, there was obviously no realistic time to even consider activating the Body Camera. This falls under the 11% of OIS circumstances where we have evaluated Body Cameras were not activated. To be clear, however, this does not mean that each of these situations involves any sort of error by the parties involved. When a Body Camera has to be manually activated, it is an inherent shortcoming that it will often not be activated in a quickly unfolding situation. The news media in Alabama contacted us because our Instant-On technology would start recording the moment the firearm is drawn since it does not have the limitation of manual activation. Any error by or second-guessing of law enforcement agencies is based on not deploying this technology for just this type of tragic situation. In the Hoover event, there would not have been a long video from a WMC, but it would have captured the officer's view as the split-second decision was made to pull the trigger.
Nothing will erase this tragic circumstance that was probably, to be frank, inevitable and unpreventable on the unique sequence that arose. Sometimes tragedies occur based on being in the exact wrong place at the worst particular moment. The officers being so close to the altercation prevented a more cautious approach which could have been a possibility if Bradford had already reached the victim and was giving aid, or Bradford, perhaps seeing the officers approaching before he turned away from them while drawing his firearm, either not drawing the arearm or quickly surrendering. In this case, our WMC or an activated BWC may not have shed significantly more light on what happened. Nonetheless, at least for what Hoover appears to have invested in its video evidence program, inflammatory words like “cover up” would not be part of the conversation or part of a civil matter against the City. The protests that have reignited would also be mitigated by the fact that all potential information has been shared with the public. As for the notion that this is an example of where the WMC is not always going to give information that exonerates officers, no doubt WMC footage may still leave or create questions or in other cases, show mistakes by officers. We have seen, however, time and time again that what causes the outrage and bitter litigation is the uncertainty of what happened and the fear that justice is not going to be served, particularly when there are disputed accounts of events. The WMC helps in eliminating that portion of the controversy.
EJ Bradford’s Mom Accuses Alabama Of ‘Trying To Protect This Officer Who Killed My Son’Read full story
Let’s also keep in mind that this has happened with Body Cameras in over one in 10 officer involved shootings including cities like Minneapolis, Memphis and Houston. And it seems every time the results are inflammatory and incendiary. We have said it before that for what municipalities invest in Body Camera programs, it is inexplicable not to invest a miniscule fraction of additional cost on top to deploy Weapon Mounted Cameras, to make sure the most critical or severe event an agency can face is captured. We are planning to be back in Alabama in the near future for a media event with one of our deploying agencies to further discuss our analysis as part of the basis that WMCs make sense for all agencies. Our analysis regarding Body Cameras not being activated and the fallout from such circumstances, unfortunately, became illustrated in grim reality in Hoover.
Stories on other police shootings: