The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed witness reports that an officer with the Prichard Police Department shot and killed an unarmed man near his home on First Avenue over the weekend.
The shooting occurred around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18, on First Avenue in Prichard following a traffic stop, which was shortly before reports of a “large police presence” in the area began circulating on social media.
MCSO has identified the deceased as 56-year-old Lawrence Hawkins, who authorities say was pronounced dead at a local hospital after being transferred from the scene.
An autopsy has been completed, but other than stating Hawkins’ death was caused by gunshot wounds, investigators have kept most details of the autopsy report close to the chest because the investigation is still in its early stages.
The city of Prichard nor the PPD made any comments about the shooting until Tuesday afternoon when Prichard Mayor Jimmy Gardner addressed the situation for the first time to offer condolences to Hawkins’ family and to address the community at large.
“This affects our entire community. I don’t mean just in the city of Prichard, but throughout our country,” Gardner said. “As you well know, many of these incidents have happened in so many places, and when it occurs, it impacts so many people and so many lives. Not only the lives of the person who is deceased, but also the lives of the officers involved.”
So far, all information about the incident itself has come from MCSO, which launched an investigating into the shooting shortly after it occurred at the request of Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich.
On Monday, MCSO identified the officer involved in the shooting as Johnathan Murphy
Murphy has been employed with PPD for a little more than a year and reportedly has a “spotless” record. He was placed on administrative leave on Tuesday, Nov. 21, as MCSO continued its investigation into the shooting.
On several occasions in the past, PPD has broadcast unedited arrests and drug busts live on social media. However, it doesn’t appear that any footage was captured of the incident that led to Hawkins’ death.
Questions sent to the city of Prichard about any possible footage went unanswered, but Myles confirmed PPD doesn’t issue dash or body cameras to its officers. She said some officers have “purchased their own” dash cameras — one of whom did respond to the scene, but only after Hawkins had been shot.
Lagniappe reached out to individuals purporting to be relatives of Hawkins but didn’t receive a response as of this publication’s press deadline. Other reports indicate the family plans to release a statement this week, but that has yet to occur.
Witnesses on the scene immediately following the shooting claimed Hawkins was unarmed when he was shot in his own front yard. MCSO officials have since confirmed that no weapon was recovered from the scene, and records do indicate Hawkins lives on First Avenue.
Sheriff Sam Cochran has confirmed Hawkins was standing beside his truck when he was shot, but while a cell phone was recovered from inside the vehicle, Cochran said he couldn’t yet speak to witness claims that Hawkins was reaching for a phone at the time.
In live social media videos — some shared hundreds of times since — bystanders can be seen in the area where the shooting occurred as other PPD officers responded and paramedics arrived to transport Hawkins to the hospital for treatment.
Some of those individuals claimed to have heard three gunshots, which was confirmed when investigators revealed that three shell casings were recovered from the scene. However, at this point, it’s unclear how many of those bullets actually struck Hawkins or where.
Though the only narrative released indicates the incident began as a traffic stop, residents in the area have said there were no lights or sirens prior to the shooting. One of the things MCSO is trying to determine is when — or if — Murphy engaged his patrol lights.
Though it’s been a little more than 48 hours since Hawkins’ was shot, few details have been confirmed by MCSO, and part of the reason is that, as of Monday afternoon, investigators had yet to interview Murphy himself.
Cochran said, after speaking briefly with investigators on the night of the shooting, Murphy opted not to make any official statements without an attorney.“Understand, we’re conducting a criminal investigation, not an internal investigation — he does not work for us,” Cochran said. “So, our investigators would have and did inform him of his constitutional rights and informed him they were going to question him. At that time, he indicated that he wished to speak to an attorney prior to making a statement.”
In the meantime, Cochran said investigators have continued to collect evidence from the scene, interview neighbors and potential witnesses and take statements from the other officers who arrived on the scene after the shooting occurred.
Not having heard Murphy’s version of events, Cochran said Monday it was far too early to speculate about whether Murphy’s use of deadly force was justified. He also rejected the idea that investigators would base an investigation around “looking for justification”
“We’re going to investigate the facts. The facts will speak for themselves, and the law will be applied,” he added. “We know this is a very important case to the community because it’s a very important case to us. We take it extremely seriously, and we’re going to be as forthcoming as possible.”
As MCSO continues its investigation, anyone with information about the case is asked to call 251-574-8633. Reports can also be submitted anonymously at mobileso.com/crimetips.
Gardner, a former law enforcement officer himself, said he’s certain MCSO’s investigation will be thorough and handled with care. He also confirmed for the first time Tuesday that the PPD would be conducting its own parallel investigation into the shooting as well.
Gardner also said he is prepared to “take any and all appropriate actions” when those investigations are complete.
The PPD recently enjoyed some positive exposure on social media after a resident recorded officer Casey Chumney dancing with her young daughter and shared it on her Facebook page. A video of the impromptu “dance off” went viral in October.
Just last week, however, PPD found itself in the news again, but this time for arresting one of its own.Officer Bryan Pearman was arrested Nov. 15 on charges of domestic violence, kidnapping and harassing communications. Court documents indicate Pearman allegedly abducted a woman he’d been in a dating relationship with, threatened to kill her and eventually hit her in the face.
A day after his arrest, Pearman posted a $9,000 bond and was released, though it was not his first time on the wrong side of the law.
In 2013, he left PPD after being charged with aggravated child abuse but was rehired after a grand jury declined to indict him on those charges. Metro Jail records also indicate Pearman was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals in 2010.
While some local reports have suggested Pearman was placed on administrative leave after his most recent arrest, a spokeswoman with the city of Prichard denied those claims but offered no clarification about Pearman’s current status with the PPD.