On July 7, 1945, police officer Melvin Porter shot and killed Prentiss McCann, a twenty-three year-old father of three, in Mobile, Alabama. On that Saturday evening, around 8:45pm, McCann left home to walk to the grocery store in the African American neighborhood of Maysville to buy eggs. He stopped to observe a dice game at the Midway Club on Dublin Street. Around 9:00 pm, Mobile police officers Porter and Patrick Gibney drove up. Most of the crowd, players and onlookers alike, ran off when the officers pulled up, but McCann did not move and remained talking to a friend. Porter shot McCann twice in the head from his car window, felling McCann instantly. Porter was alleged to have said, moments after, “I’m sorry it happened. The gun got caught up in the door.”
The officers transported McCann to City Hospital, where he died just after midnight. The Mobile Police never reported to Rena McCann that her husband had been killed. After his death, Rena McCann and her children could no longer support themselves in Mobile, and they returned to live with her parents Waynesboro, Mississippi.
After an initial investigation on the night of the incident, Porter and Gibney conferred and told identical stories to the police chief and the District Attorney. The corner listed the cause of death as a “justifiable homicide.” As a result, there was no inquest. The District Attorney declined to press charges against Porter.
The Mobile NAACP waged a campaign to convince the Department of Justice of prosecute Porter and Gibney. Based on their efforts, the Department of Justice instructed the FBI to conduct an investigation into McCann’s murder. Despite the strong evidence that the police had fabricated the self-defense claim, the Department of Justice decided that the case did not merit action because it would be difficult to overcome the officers’ version of events. The Department of Justice closed on October 3, 1945.