MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that it will not pursue charges against an Alabama police officer who shot and killed a 19-year-old during a traffic stop.
Justice department officials said there was no evidence to disprove the officer’s account that Michael Moore was reaching for a gun tucked in his waistband. The shooting was not captured on video and the department said there are conflicting eyewitness reports about what happened when Moore stepped outside his vehicle and the white officer opened fire on the black teen.
“The Department makes this decision because the evidence obtained through the course of a rigorous investigation is insufficient to prove that the Officer willfully used excessive force resulting in Moore’s death,” the department said in a statement.
Mobile Police Officer Harold Hurst on June 13, 2016 stopped a vehicle driven by Moore for making an erratic turn. Hurst told investigators that after running a check on the car tag, he learned the vehicle had been reported stolen.
Hurst said he noticed a gun tucked in Moore’s waistband when Moore bent down to place a cellphone on the ground and ordered him not to touch it. Hurst told investigators that he opened fire when Moore reached for the gun. Hurst said Moore fell to the ground and he fired again because Hurst was reaching for the weapon.
The department said other eyewitnesses described Moore as pulling up his pants, or having his hands by his waist, immediately before the shooting. Others described Moore as “snatching” his hand downward or “flinching” at the time of the shooting. Moore was taken to a nearby hospital where emergency personnel found a firearm in the waistband of his clothing, the department said.
The Justice Department said that it had informed Moore’s family of the decision.
A local grand jury had previously declined to press charges against Hurst.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has shown intense support of local police, and civil rights advocates are watching closely for how he handles investigations of officers involved in racially charged encounters and deaths.
He has already promised to pull back on far-reaching civil rights investigations of troubled police agencies, believing that too much federal scrutiny can wrongly malign entire departments and hurt officer morale. And last week he told local police they could once again have access to free grenade launchers and large-caliber weapons from the U.S. military, rescinding Obama administration restrictions that he said went too far.
But even without Sessions’ close connections to local law enforcement, bringing federal charges in police shooting cases is exceptionally difficult in any administration. Authorities in such cases must prove an officer violated someone’s civil rights, a high standard of proof, a challenge that has complicated prosecutions in past police shootings.