BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Months after her son’s death, Erica Connell is still searching for answers.
In a park just outside of Birmingham on Thursday, she explained that authorities – both state and local – have stonewalled her requests for more information about what happened to her 27-year-old son Keleen Connell.
On Feb. 23, Birmingham police shot and killed Keleen Connell after what officials described as an “altercation” with the man in the Magic City’s Avondale neighborhood. In remarks that lasted less than 20 seconds on the day of the shooting, then-interim Birmingham Police Chief Scott Thurmond claimed a firearm was recovered at the scene but did not respond to any questions from the press.
Now, nearly five months after her son’s death, Connell’s mother Erica said that information contained in an independent, preliminary autopsy commissioned by the family raises new questions about what happened to Keleen Connell that day in February.
The report, written by Dr. Jackson Gates of Medical Diagnostic Choices in Atlanta, concludes that police shot Connell three times at “distant-range.” The report suggests Connell was struck twice in his side, at his hip and abdomen, and once in his back. The shot in Keleen Connell’s back, the report indicates, led to a bleeding lung and is suspected to be the “lethal wound.”
Erica Connell claims the preliminary report supports the conclusion that her son wasn’t an immediate threat to police officers.
“He was no threat to them if he’s running away,” Connell said. “He didn’t pose a threat to them.”
Connell and her lawyers viewed portions of body camera footage from the February incident in the Birmingham offices of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the entity investigating the police shooting. Connell said she couldn’t watch as police shot her son.
“I had to walk out,” she said.
Erica Connell said, though, that what she did see of the body camera footage – and what her lawyers later described to her – did not convince her that her son deserved to be shot and killed by police.
Connell said she and members of the public deserve more information about what happened, including incident reports, a toxicology report, and the full initial autopsy report, all of which have been, so far, withheld by authorities.
She said police shouldn’t be legally allowed to shoot an individual for simply running from them.
“He was a Black man. He was nervous about the police. If Keleen was getting away, they should have just let him go,” she said. “Put a warrant out for his arrest if you felt like he did something wrong. But he didn’t deserve to die.”
Connell said city leaders, too, should take more leadership in her son’s case. Connell spoke outside Birmingham City Hall the day after her son’s death.
“What is wrong is for Birmingham Police to neglect to tell me what happened to my son,” she said at the time. “I demand to know.”
As Erica Connell spoke outside city hall — a day after then-Acting Chief Thurmond refused to answer questions from the media — BPD released an additional comment on Thurmond’s behalf.
“It is heartbreaking and devastating in all cases of officer involved shootings,” Thurmond said in the prepared statement. “The Birmingham Police Department would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of those involved as well as the community. The Birmingham Police Department acknowledges how significant incidents affect the community and is fully committed to providing the highest quality of police services to our community.”
Keleen Connell’s best friend, Jade Little, who is also demanding answers in the case, said that the chief’s statement had come too late.
“He could’ve said that last night,” Little said.
Now, Erica Connell said that if Thurmond and other city leaders are committed to the community, they should help her get the answers she said that she, her family, and the citizens of Birmingham deserve.
“Why is it so hard for them to just answer my questions?” Connell asked. “What happened to my son?”
A representative of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency referred CBS 42 to the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office regarding questions about the case. We contacted the DA’s office and have not yet heard back.