The Prichard Police Department in Alabama is back in the news, this time joining the killing-of-unarmed-men media circus. The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) confirms that PPD shot and killed an unarmed man over the weekend. Police claim the situation began as a routine traffic stop.
The official story is that Officer Johnathan Murphy was trying to pull over 56-year-old Lawrence Hawkins. He ran a red light near his home and pulled into his driveway. Hawkins hopped out of the vehicle and reached back in to retrieve his phone. It was at that point Murphy shot him. The shots rang out around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18, on First Avenue in Prichard, Alabama. Soon after, posts on social media began circulating about a high police presence in the area.
Witnesses admit Hawkins ran the red light on the corner but question police behavior. Residents say the officer did not have his siren or lights on prior to the shooting. How were they signaling for Hawkins to stop and pull over? Should Hawkins just pull over at the sight of the cops behinds him?
Lakeisha Williams witnessed the shooting from half a block away. She told reporters, “The police got behind, they were just like this here up on him. They didn’t put no lights on or give him no kind of sign to try to give him a signal to stop.” She added police officers followed Hawkins onto his driveway. “Mr. Lawrence got out and he reached up in his truck. The officer fired pow, pow, pow, three times and then he cut his lights on after he shot him,” said Williams.
Neighbors of Hawkins speak of him highly. Hawkins is often cutting neighbors’ lawn or tinkering under the hood of a car.
“He believed in work, he knew a little bit about everything. He knew a motor, would take a motor out of the car, build a house,” said Glenn Wright.
Another man said, “He don’t do nothing but cut grass and work on cars every day of his life. That’s all he do. He don’t mess with anybody.”
Jerry Ward said, “He was a pretty nice fellow in the neighborhood. He was on disability and cut grass and stuff like that for the neighborhood.”
Friends and family of Hawkins are demanding to know why officers did not have sirens or flashing lights on if they were conducting a traffic stop. At this time, there are few answers none of which answer that glaring question. Alabama’s MCSO is looking into when Murphy engaged his lights.
Calls to the city have been made in regards to body cam footage but according to MCSO, Murphy did not have on a body cam. PPD has in the past streamed live arrests and drug busts but admit that body cams and dashboard cams are not standard issue for officers. Some of the officers do purchase their own cameras one of whom did respond to the scene, but only after Hawkins had been shot.
Immediately after the shooting Murphy declined to speak without his attorney present. This in turn stalled any preliminary information investigators hoped to glean from the shooting.
Sheriff Sam Cochran said, “Understand, we’re conducting a criminal investigation, not an internal investigation — he does not work for us. 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.”
Investigators are still collecting evidence from the scene in Prichard, Alabama despite not being able to speak with Murphy.
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 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.”