The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it will not pursue federal criminal charges against former Mobile police officer Harold Hurst, who shot and killed 19-year-old Michael Moore during a 2016 traffic stop in Mobile.
Officials from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Mobile and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notified Moore’s family of the determination, stating that “the evidence obtained through the course of a rigorous investigation is insufficient to prove [Hurst] willfully used excessive force.”
According to the DOJ, the department devoted significant time and resources to investigating the events surrounding Moore’s death, which occurred on June 13, 2016, in Mobile near the University of South Alabama Medical Center.
“A team of experienced career federal prosecutors from the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office reviewed evidence obtained by the FBI and state investigators to determine whether the Officer violated any federal laws,” a DOJ statement reads. “They conducted a detailed and lengthy analysis of numerous materials, including police reports, law enforcement accounts, witness statements, affidavits of witnesses, dispatch logs, physical evidence reports, the autopsy report, photographs, videos of some portions of the incident and conducted additional witness interviews.”
The DOJ’s assessment of the what led up to shooting were similar to accounts initially given by the Mobile Police Department: Moore made an erratic turn while driving a car that had been reported stolen, and when pulled over, provided Hurst with a false driver’s license number.
As was the case in the local investigation, there were “conflicting eyewitness accounts” from residents and motorists traveling through the area about what happened once Moore exited the vehicle — “critical events” that weren’t captured on video because Hurst was not equipped with a body camera at the time.
“Both passengers inside Moore’s vehicle acknowledged that they saw Moore with a firearm prior to the shooting. One passenger observed a firearm in Moore’s car seat before encountering the Officer, and the other saw a firearm in Moore’s waistband once he stepped outside the vehicle,” the DOJ statement reads. “Some eyewitnesses describe Moore pulling up his pants or having his hands by his waist immediately prior to the shooting. Others describe Moore ‘snatching’ his hand downward or ‘flinching’ at the time of the shooting.”
The DOJ’s account of interviews with Hurst are also consistent with statements he made to local investigators following incident: Moore exited the vehicle with a cell phone in his right hand, he asked Moore to put the cell phone down, and when Moore bent down to put the phone on the ground, he saw a gun in Moore’s waistband.
“The officer commanded Moore not to reach for the gun, but Moore did so, at which time the officer shot Moore causing Moore to fall to the ground,” the statement reads. “While on the ground, the officer again commanded Moore not to reach for the gun. However, Moore reached for the gun, and the officer shot him again.”
The DOJ also acknowledged one of the more controversial pieces of evidence that came to light in the aftermath of Moore’s death — that a firearm under Moore’s right hip in the waistband of his shorts, but only after he’d been transported from the scene to the University of South Alabama Medical Center.
“Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an officer ‘willfully’ deprived an individual of a Constitutional right, meaning the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids,” the DOJ statement reads. “This is the highest standard of intent imposed by the law. Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence, nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a willful federal criminal civil rights violation.”
Using those measurements, investigators concluded the government couldn’t “disprove the officer’s claim that he believed that Moore was reaching for a firearm, that he feared for his life, and that he made the split-second decision to defend it.”
The announcement from the DOJ on Thursday cleared Hurst from any possible criminal liability in Moore’s death. A Mobile County grand jury already elected did not pursue criminal charges against him at the state level last fall.
However, Hurst still faces a federal civil lawsuit filed by Moore’s family in 2016. Motions in that case had been stayed pending the outcome of the DOJ investigation. Hurst, who worked as an MPD officer for more than four years at the time Moore’s death, retired just last week after spending the past 14 months on paid administrative leave.
Following the conclusion of the federal investigation, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson issued a statement referring to Moore’s death as a “tragedy,” while vowing to continue efforts to improve police relations with communities in all areas of Mobile.
“Since the shooting of Michael Moore, the city of Mobile has taken unprecedented steps to ensure transparency — incorporating lessons learned from other communities that have experienced similar tragedies,” Stimpson wrote. “Our prayers remain with all of the families affected by this incident. We continue to work as a city to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the citizens we serve.”