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Killing Of Andrew Brown Jr. By Deputies Was Justified, Says DA Womble

AndrewBrownJr_6774.jpg
Kate Medley
/
For WUNC
May 2, 2021 file photo of a mural in Elizabeth City, N.C. that pays tribute to Andrew Brown Jr.

Updated at 7:45 p.m.

In a press conference Tuesday morning, District Attorney Andrew Womble announced he has reviewed the probe by the State Bureau of Investigation and determined that the killing of Andrew Brown Jr. by Pasquotank County Deputies was justified. His office will not pursue criminal charges against the officers involved, he said.

Deputies shot and killed Brown the morning of April 21 as they were carrying out drug-related search and arrest warrants.

Womble played footage from four body cameras to reporters present, and multiple news outlets live-streamed the footage. In describing the videos, Womble said Brown used his car “as a deadly weapon” in his interaction with law enforcement officers — both in backing up and in driving away from his residence and toward the street.

“Mr. Brown's actions caused three deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others,” said Womble. “The officers' actions were consistent with their training and fully supported under the law.”

The prosecutor said Brown was not armed with guns or other weapons during interaction with deputies. Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said in a video statement Tuesday afternoon that the deputies will keep their jobs but will be "disciplined and retrained.”

Brown’s Family Attorneys React To Probe

Attorneys for the Brown family spoke out against District Attorney Womble’s finding on Tuesday afternoon.

“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,” attorneys said in a statement. “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.”

Andrew-Brown-son-Khalil-Ferebee
Peyton Sickles
Andrew Brown's son Khalil Ferebee addresses reporters on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Brown family attorneys are now calling for a court to release the full body camera video and a copy of the State Bureau of Investigation report. The attorneys also request that the Federal Department of Justice intervene in the case.

In a statement, the State Bureau of Investigation said their role is to investigate the facts surrounding the events and to present their findings to the prosecutor — in this case District Attorney Womble. The ultimate decision in how the law is applied and whether to lay criminal charges against the officers is up to the prosecutor, the SBI wrote. The SBI investigation is not considered public record under North Carolina and a court order is required for its release.

Protesters took to the streets of Elizabeth City on Tuesday night to echo the family's call for the release of the full body camera footage.

Sheriff: ‘Should Not Have Happened This Way’

Sheriff Wooten said his department “could have done better” in attempting to carry out search and arrest warrants for Brown. "This should not have happened this way,” he said in a video statement Tuesday.

Wooten said two deputies involved did not turn on their body cameras and the SWAT team was “supposed to have EMS on standby near the scene.” Wooten said the SWAT team will receive further training. He did not lay out specific disciplinary measures against officers involved.

Wooten said he would ask a judge to allow his office to release the law enforcement footage to the public. He intends to release portions of the internal investigation and the independent expert’s preliminary report once “it's clear that I can legally do that,” he said.

State Attorney General Josh Stein has also called for the full release of body camera footage and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement that “federal officials should continue to thoroughly investigate the shooting.”

DA: ‘Perceived Danger’ Justifies Use of Deadly Force

Reporters at the Tuesday morning press conference questioned District Attorney Womble’s description of the footage and qualification of Brown’s car as a “deadly weapon.” Some said it was not clear to them whether Brown was trying to turn his vehicle away from police rather than toward them.

“I don't care what direction you're going: forward, backward, sideways. I don't care if you're stationary, and neither do our courts and our case law,” said Womble.

The prosecutor said that Pasquotank deputies perceived the moving vehicle as a threat and “immediately fired their weapon to neutralize the threat.” He highlighted that the “perceived danger to the officer must only be apparent, not actual, in order to justify the use of deadly force.”

Will April 28.jpeg
Will Michaels
Protesters march through Elizabeth City on Wed. April 28 following a judge's decision not to immediately release body camera footage from the shooting of Andrew Brown.

In at least one of the body camera views shown Tuesday, deputies are seen getting out of the Sheriff’s Office pickup truck wearing tactical gear and shots are heard being fired by deputies 13 seconds later. Womble said deputies fired 14 shots during the event, based on shell casings.

A deputy who tried to open Brown's car door was jerked over the hood when the car backed up, and the deputy's body was struck by the vehicle, the prosecutor said. The deputy then found himself directly in the car's path as Brown drove forward again, Womble said, and had to push off the hood with his hand “to avoid being run over."

Womble said when Brown drove away from his residence and toward the street, that he was heading toward officers in unmarked cars and posed a danger to them. Pasquotank deputies also fired shots in the same direction as they aimed at Brown’s car.

The three deputies involved in the shooting — Investigator Daniel Meads, Deputy Robert Morgan and Cpl. Aaron Lewellyn — have been on leave since it happened. The sheriff’s office said Morgan is Black, while Meads and Lewellyn are white.

Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten II has previously said his officers were not injured in the events on April 21.

During the press conference, the district attorney described Brown’s interactions with law enforcement leading up to April 21. Womble said Brown was a “known drug dealer” and that a “confidential informant” had bought drugs from him on two occasions. Womble said an SBI lab had determined the heroin purchased in one of the buys was laced with fentanyl.

When asked, Womble said he could not share copies of the videos with journalists because he is not a “custodian” of the footage and that release of the footage must be approved by a North Carolina judge.

The official state autopsy and toxicology reports have not yet been finalized, said Womble.

Womble said a medical examiner working for the state found that Brown died from multiple gunshot wounds after being hit in the back of the head and right shoulder. Womble said the medical examiner, who spoke to him by phone, also described superficial “abrasions” to his arm, leg and back from bullet shrapnel.

An independent autopsy released by the family found that Brown was hit by bullets five times, including once in the back of the head.

The Associated Press contributed to this reporting.

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