Nick Perkins was fast asleep when he got the call that his brother, Steve, 39, had been shot dead by police. The authorities weren’t the ones on the other end of the line — instead, it was Steve’s wife, Catrela, who had heard about the incident from a cousin, who had, in turn, received a call from Steve’s neighbor. Catrela had been a work at the time, on the late shift at a local auto plant.

In a frenzy, Nick grabbed his wife and child, driving from hospital to hospital until they finally found Steve at a Huntsville, Alabama, trauma unit. “We went in the wee hours of the morning only to learn that he was deceased,” Nick tells Rolling Stone, a shock that staggered him. “You never would think this would happen.” He adds that his brother worked maintenance at the J. M. Smucker Company to support his wife and seven-year-old daughter. “Steve grew up to be such a nice, handsome, and dependable young man who loved his family and his wife and the gym. Those were his three things. He was very kind.”

Nick isn’t alone in his consternation. What happened to his brother in the early morning hours of Sept. 29th outside his Decatur, Alabama, home is shrouded in confusion, and has his town of under 60,000 lost, confused, and embroiled in protests. 

According to Decatur police, the incident occurred after a local towing company attempted to repossess Perkins’ truck late that night. (Family claim via a representative that Perkins’ payments were in good standing, however. The name of the tow truck company and driver has not been released to the public.) Police say Perkins threatened the driver with a gun, prompting officers to return to his home after 1 a.m. Cops say Perkins pointed a gun outfitted with a flashlight at officers, leading them to shoot and kill him, but neighbors’ security footage and the family’s lawyer tell a different story. 

According to lawyer and activist Lee Merritt, officers did not announce themselves nor give Perkins ample time to react before pulling the trigger. Security footage seems to show as much. There appear to be no visible police vehicles in front of Perkins’ house at the time of the shooting, and when he enters his driveway holding a flashlight of some sort, an officer runs toward him from the back of the house. At this point, someone yells, “Hey, police, get on the ground.” Before the word “ground” has even finished being spoken, an officer unloads more than a dozen rounds in Perkins’ direction, seven of which made contact.

“All of my research and investigation so far seems to establish that law enforcement met with the tow truck company and allowed that tow truck company go back to Mr. Perkins’ property and begin to tow again,” Merritt tells me. “They did this without announcing themselves, without knocking on the door.”

“I was horrified because what I saw was an ambush,” he adds. “Mr. Perkins said to the tow truck driver, ‘Put my car down,’ only aware of his presence. And the next thing you know, someone hops out of the dark. They opened fire without giving him an opportunity to comply.”

Nick says that his brother did indeed have a gun with a flashlight attachment that he used to survey his property before the family went to sleep, but defends Steve’s right to carry it on his own land. “I mean, you know, it’s one o’clock in the morning and somebody’s in your driveway. Why wouldn’t you come out armed to protect your property?” he says.

Meanwhile, Nick and the family lawyer are not alone in their speculation. In fact, Chief Todd Pinion announced on Oct. 11 that the incident is under investigation. “There are two separate investigations underway right now to provide those answers,” he wrote on the department’s Facebook. “First, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) is conducting a criminal investigation to determine the facts of what occurred. ALEA will present those findings to the Morgan County District Attorney’s Office who will make a determination if any violations of Alabama law occurred. A grand jury made up of Morgan County residents will decide if any criminal charges are appropriate.”

Pinion also noted that his department disseminated inaccurate information on the 29th. In initial reports, police said that officers ordered Perkins to drop his weapon before the shooting, when, in reality, they only told him to get on the ground. It has not yet been publicly ascertained whether or not Perkins was holding a gun or a flashlight, however, and police have yet to release bodycam footage.

When Rolling Stone reached out to the ALEA for that footage, we were told: “Please be advised that investigative material includes law enforcement records, including but not limited to investigative reports, field notes, witness statements and other investigative writings or recordings which are not public records but rather are privileged communications protected from disclosure.” 

Merritt plans to file a lawsuit next week against the police, which he hopes will result in the bodycam footage’s release. The family is prepared, he says, to go to the federal level with the case.

Perkins’ autopsy has also not been completed. When asked for comment, the county coroner wrote to Rolling Stone: “No reports will be released until the DA or grand jury meets on the case if it goes to that.” 

Given all the confusion surrounding the tragedy, citizens of Decatur are actively protesting Perkins’ death, calling on cops to release the bodycam footage and mete out justice where necessary. (The names of the officers involved have not yet been released and Pinion did not immediately respond to a request for comment on any updates.) In one such case, protestors halted traffic on the Hudson Memorial Bridge in Decatur, leading to several arrests. Hundreds of people also attended Perkins’ Oct. 7 funeral, backing up traffic for 10 miles.

“I remember when his child was born, thinking, ‘I’m proud of him, because he’s a man now,’” Nick says. “My hope is that all parties involved are terminated. But I think Steve will want us to be patient. To keep the fight going, and to not give up. Because justice will be sorted.”