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Clergy members working to unite community following officer-involved shooting death

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ALEXANDER CITY, AL (WSFA) -

It's a case that continues to make headlines- an officer-involved shooting death in Alexander City that claimed the life of a local man. The NAACP is now involved and a group of local clergymen are speaking out as well as they work to keep tensions in the community in check.

As questions and concerns continue to swirl around the shooting death of 21-year-old Emerson Crayton Jr. by an Alexander City police officer last month, local clergy members are taking a stand to quell some of the rising unrest felt throughout their congregations. They've formed a coalition called the Concerned African-Amercian Clergy of Tallapoosa and Coosa Counties. 

The group held a press conference Friday night at Miracle Missionary Baptist Church in Alexander City. Members said their goal is to respect the process of the investigation into the deadly incident and respect the emotions in the community by providing stability and leadership.

"We must remain committed to a calm and peaceful response and the betterment of our community," said Melvin Ervin, pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Goodwater, AL and member of the coalition. "We're developing proposals and strategies to address this tragedy and other lingering issues between the community and law enforcement. After our plans and proposals are completed, we will sit down with area law enforcement and government officials and concerned citizens to develop proactive and preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of this type of incident happening again."

"The community feelings have been high but they have been very calm and very patient waiting on a ruling to come down. Thanks to the clergy and the NAACP members who have diligently worked to help keep calm," added Sam Alexander, Tallapoosa Chapter NAACP President.

The shooting happened March 8 in the early morning hours at the Huddle House restaurant on Highway 280 in Alexander City.

According to a witness WSFA interviewed after the shooting, Emerson Crayton was trying to leave Huddle House after having a problem with employees when an officer was flagged down by a worker.

"I guess the police felt like he was trying to hurt somebody you know or whatever, but he wasn't," the witness told 12 News.

In the beginning, the Alexander City Police Department said an officer went to the Huddle House after a report of two men fighting and when the officer approached them, one of the men ran to his vehicle.

Police said Crayton started to leave and that he tried to run over the officer and that the officer, fearing for his life, shot and killed Crayton.

Thursday police Chief Willie Robinson acknowledged that statement about the police responding to a fight was false. According to the chief, the police report states an officer was already in the vicinity of the restaurant when an employee waved down the officer.

"The officer saw Mr. Crayton jump in his vehicle to leave because the owner had identified him as the cause of the disturbance inside the Huddle House. The officer went to Crayton's vehicle to try and talk to him and that's when he put the car in reverse and the officer ended up in front of the Crayton's car. According to the police report, that's when Mr. Crayton tried to run over the officer and the officer fired the shot," the report states, according to the chief. 

The officer remains on paid leave. The Alabama Bureau of Investigation is handling the investigation.

"What happened here is worse than the Trayvon Martin killing by George Zimmerman as far as I'm concerned. There's absolutely zero justification. We have statements now, signed affidavits from three witnesses and a fourth just about to have in hand. We have a claim ready to file against the city of Alex City and the police officers that were involved and most likely other officers higher up for the lack of training and we're looking at other claims frankly of other people at Huddle House that were involved in inciting this whole thing," said Julian McPhillips, the Crayton family's attorney.

Meanwhile, Crayton's family says the community rallying around them has helped them cope with their loss. 

"It's a tragic event for anyone who loses someone through something like this but we're thankful for the community support. People of all backgrounds have been very supportive to the family but seeing that they want justice as well as we do, that makes it feel so much better as an individual and for my family as well," said Mardracus Russell, Emerson Crayton's Brother.

As the local coalition of clergy and the community wait for the results of the ABI's investigation into the fatal shooting, NAACP officials say they're also requesting that the FBI and Justice Department investigate the case.

"We're always concerned about possible violations when incidents like this happen. That's why we want to make sure that all law enforcement and all Justice Department look into the case and make sure that we get to the root cause and what happened and who did what in this case," Alabama NAACP President Benard Simelton told WSFA.

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