Lawyers for the family of Andrew Brown Jr. say that video shown to his family Tuesday make it clear that North Carolina sheriff’s deputies were “unequivocally unjustified” in fatally shooting the unarmed black man as he tried to flee in his car.
The footage, which will not be released to the public despite a lawsuit and outrage from the community, was shown to the family by the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office after a court order.
The ruling by North Carolina Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster specified which portions of the footage Brown’s family can view, allowed deputy’s faces to be redacted and limited them to see fewer than 20 minutes of the more than two hours of video taken before and after Brown’s death.
Brown was shot five times – including once in the back of his head, a family-backed autopsy showed – as deputies were serving search and arrest warrants at Brown’s home in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on April 21. A North Carolina prosecutor said deputies opened fire on Brown when he was attempting to flee and hit deputies with his vehicle – a key detail Brown’s family says the footage does not back up.
“What we saw on that video was an unjustified killing,” said Bakari Sellers, one of the family’s attorneys. “What we saw on that video is something that we believe also denotes further investigation and does have some criminal liability.”
After spending several hours viewing the footage, attorneys for the family took the public through what they saw on the tapes. The footage was broken into six clips, which included one dash camera tape and five body camera videos from deputies, family attorney Chance Lynch said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Lynch said the clips showed Brown in a car and “his hands were visible at all times.” He said the footage showed chaos with deputy’s screaming different commands for Brown to both show his hands and get out of the car.
“It was so much yelling that we could barely understand what they were saying, so I can’t imagine what was going through Mr. Brown’s mind,” Lynch said.
Lynch said the first shot rang out as Brown was still sitting in the car. After the shot, Brown put the car in reverse, then turned the steering wheel to the left. Lynch says the officers they could see in the footage were not near the vehicle and weren’t in his path.
“We did not see any actions on Mr. Brown’s part where he made contact with them or tried to go in their direction. In fact, he did just the opposite,” he said.
Lynch said he and the other attorneys counted six bullet holes in the passenger side of his vehicle, another six rounds through the back windshield and at least one that went through the front windshield. The footage showed deputies pulling an unarmed Brown from the car and searching him.
Jha’rod Ferebee, one of Brown’s sons, said his father didn’t pose a threat and should not have died.
“My father did not deserve to die at all,” he told reporters. “He did not deserve to be killed. In any way shape or form, he did not pose any threat at all.”
After the footage was shown to Brown’s family, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten released a video statement expressing condolences to the family, promising transparency and detailing that “this was a day that no one wanted.”
“It was my hope that we will be able to release the video publicly so everyone could see for themselves what happened,” Wooten said. “We respect the court’s decision, and took an oath to abide by North Carolina law. And we’ve done just that.”
As Brown’s family was viewing the footage Tuesday afternoon, protesters and faith leaders gathered with signs. They chanted Brown’s name and for leaders to “release the tapes.” Many downtown offices in Pasquotank County closed at 2 p.m. ET and Elizabeth City officials say protests are expected later this evening that could impact traffic.
Brown’s shooting death happened just one day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, a stark reminder of the demands activists have made for changes in policing after a day filled with celebrations across the country. Since Brown’s death, protests have continued in the area with demonstrators demanding transparency and the public release of footage. Leaders at one point instituted a curfew.
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Brown’s family was shown a 20-second clip late last month that led to more questions about his death. His family called the footage an execution and said Brown was in a vehicle, had his hands on the steering wheel and wasn’t a threat to deputies.
“They run up to his vehicle shooting,” family attorney attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter said after viewing the footage. “He finally decides to try to get away and he backs out, not going toward the officers at all.”
District Attorney Andrew Womble called Cherry-Lassiter’s account “patently false.”
“As it backs up, it does make contact with law enforcement officers,” Womble said. The car stops again, according to Womble, and, “the next movement of the car is forward. It is in the direction of law enforcement and makes contact with law enforcement. It is then and only then that you hear shots.”
Sheriff Wooten said the footage tells only part of the story and outside investigators are interviewing witnesses and gathering more information.
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“This tragic incident was quick and over in less than 30 seconds,” Wooten said, “and body cameras are shaky and sometimes hard to decipher.”
Superior Court Judge Foster said the full videos of Brown’s death might be released to the public at a later time but said he wanted to wait until a State Bureau of Investigation inquiry is complete and the district attorney can make a decision on potential charges.
Foster said he would reconsider whether to release the footage within 30 to 45 days. Womble said he believes the State Bureau of Investigation, which is overseeing an independent inquiry into the shooting, will be able to complete its work, and that he can make any potential charging decisions within that time.
Foster said he was not releasing the footage out of caution, to prevent any potential threat to a fair and impartial trial if charges were to be brought. He said release now could also threaten the safety of those seen in the footage.
Since the shooting, Wooten released the names of seven deputies involved in Brown’s shooting death. All seven were placed on administrative leave after the shooting, but a review of body-camera footage showed four of the deputies never fired a weapon. Those deputies have been reinstated to active duty.
“More investigation is necessary into the three deputies who did fire their weapons and they will remain on administrative leave pending completion of the internal investigation and/or the criminal investigation being conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation,” Wooten said.