Deputies Who Killed Black North Carolina Man Won’t Face Charges, DA Says

ELIZABETH CITY, NC - MAY 11: People attend a news conference called by lawyers for the family of Andrew Brown Jr. to discuss police video footage on May 11, 2021 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Brown was shot and ... ELIZABETH CITY, NC - MAY 11: People attend a news conference called by lawyers for the family of Andrew Brown Jr. to discuss police video footage on May 11, 2021 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Brown was shot and killed by officers from the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office on April 21. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images) MORE LESS
May 18, 2021 2:47 p.m.

The sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr. while attempting to serve an arrest warrant will not face charges, District Attorney Andrew Womble said Tuesday. 

Attorneys for the family of Brown, a Black man who was shot to death by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies on April 21, have said he posed no threat to deputies when he was killed last month. They’ve characterized his death as an “execution.” 

Brown was fatally shot as officers surrounded his car, according to body camera footage Womble released Tuesday during a press conference. 

The footage appears to show Brown maneuvering his vehicle and attempting to drive away as deputies open fire. Some deputies seemingly attempt to move out of his vehicle’s path. But the exact sequence of events, as well as whether Brown actually posed a threat to the deputies that justified the lethal shooting, is still a matter of dispute.

The district attorney said deputies were “justified” in shooting Brown. Seven deputies were initially put on leave after the shooting. Four were subsequently reinstated after it became clear that they had not fired their weapons, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said last month. 

“I saw law enforcement officers approach Mr. Brown and give him commands,” Womble said Tuesday. “I saw Mr. Brown refuse those commands and employ his vehicle to get away, and at that point put officers’ lives in danger.” 

“Mr. Brown had two choices,” the district attorney added. “He could comply, or he could try to flee. And when he tried to flee, he put their lives in danger.” 

Womble said he came to his decision after reviewing the investigatory work of the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation, which took over the probe of the police shooting shortly after it happened.

Lawyers for Brown’s family initially only saw a 20-second clip of one officer’s body camera, then were subsequently allowed to see more footage per a judge’s order. The video had not been released publicly before Tuesday; Womble argued against the release of body camera footage in court last month, telling a judge that releasing the video could bias the investigatory process. 

“You cannot swing a skunk in front of a group of people and then ask them not to smell it,” he said.

Bakari Sellers, one of the attorneys for Brown’s family, asserted on Twitter Tuesday that Brown “was not using his vehicle as a weapon.” And in a statement quoted by local station 11 News, the family’s attorneys said, “To say this shooting was justified, despite the known facts, is both an insult and a slap in the face to Andrew’s family, the Elizabeth City community, and to rational people everywhere.”

“Not only was the car moving away from officers, but four of them did not fire their weapons – clearly they did not feel that their lives were endangered,” the statement added.  The attorneys called for more video to be released, as well as a report from the State Bureau of Investigation.

In addition to the state investigation, the FBI also launched a federal civil rights probe into the shooting. 

Pitt County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Foster, ruling for the release of the body camera footage to Brown’s family and their legal team late last month, said he would revisit the question of whether to release the tapes publicly in 30 to 45 days.

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