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‘A confusing and devastating time’: Elizabeth City mayor reflects on impact of Andrew Brown Jr.’s death

A memorial has been set up surrounding the home of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, NC. Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old Black man, was shot five times, including once in the back of the head, when Pasquotank County deputies tried to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants at his home April 21. (Kate Medley / WUNC)
Kate Medley
for WUNC
A mural near the home of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, NC. Andrew Brown Jr. was shot by Pasquotank County deputies at his home April 21.
Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker.
Credit Courtesy Of Bettie Parker
Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker.

On April 21, Andrew Brown Jr. was shot and killed as Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputies attempted to carry out drug-related search and arrest warrants in Elizabeth City.

The killing prompted national attention and questions around law enforcement tactics.

Brown’s family and others are still waiting for key developments in the case — including the results of an ongoing FBI probe, a family lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages, and a media petition for the public release of body camera footage.

Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker spoke with WUNC about what's changed and what hasn't six months later.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does it feel like to be in Elizabeth City, to be part of your community right now?

"To be candid, it feels a whole lot better than six months ago. When the shooting occurred, I was simply awestruck. It was just a confusing and devastating time. The morning of the shooting, the community was really in disarray. There was unrest, people were just angry, and they were taking to the streets. And I was surprised the Elizabeth City Police Department was not invited by the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Department to aid them in executing the warrant to Andrew Brown Jr. Our police department was not involved at all. They came on the scene when they got the call that there was a shooting. Generally, the sheriff's department will contact Chief [Eddie] Buffaloe, our chief of police, and indicate to them that they're going to issue a warrant to someone in our city, and may ask for their standby assistance, if not their assistance at that particular time. But that didn't happen."

Why did the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office not reach out to Elizabeth City Police ahead of the arrest?

"They have not given us a definitive answer yet. In fact, the county commissioners — we wanted to meet with them and talk with the city council — but they did not want to meet with us because they've continued to be mum on the situation. And it may be because of possible litigation. I'm not sure about it. But I was very frustrated by that fact, and also our police chief and department was, too."

What's your position in terms of the legislative changes, the structural changes, that you want to see because of how this all played out over the past few months?

"I would like to see the law changed in that they don't hold the body camera [footage], [and] keep it away from the public. I've always had the feeling that, after 24, 48 hours, or maybe 72 hours, the law enforcement should have had enough time to view what they need to view and get an account of what actually happened, and then allow the public to see it. If you are working according to the law, if you’re carrying out the law enforcement policies as you should, you should not be reluctant in letting us see what happened. Because if it appears that you are holding the cameras from letting others see it, besides the DA and whoever else, the implication can be that you are hiding something. If you lose that element of trust, then you won't get the help that you would need from the citizens in even turning in some bad guys."

What is Elizabeth City doing in terms of legal fights or policy fights to see any sort of long-term change? And if you're not directly involved in that, please explain why.

"We are not directly involved, that is the council [isn't] … We were looking for the county commissioners to meet with us so that we could talk about it — the city council and the county commissioners — but they denied our request. In fact, we used to meet around twice a year, you know, come together and talk about things where we had common ground. But they had even indicated that they were going to stop that. They have distanced themselves from the city council. So all we could do actually was to request that the body cam and dash cam to be released. We have yet to be successful with having that released."

Has this experience and these events changed anything palpable about Elizabeth City?

"Well, six months later, of course we are calmer. It was sort of like, you know, back to business. There is still some division, I think. Because we're still not absolutely sure of what's happened. And a lot of people feel like there's still not enough transparency and accountability. But yet they're moving on.

"As far as people being just angry at one another and, and not getting along, that's not where we are today. But we still have that cloud. The cloud of not fully having transparency from the sheriff's department and the DA, some feel like the DA made a wrong decision by not filing criminal charges. By the media bringing the attention to all of this, to our town, I think that helps get the message out that we’re concerned about anyone who gets shot in that manner. Even though the DA said it was justified, I don't know how convincing his information was to the public. But the protests went on for an awful long time. I don't know if protests in other cities when something similar to this has happened, if protesting went on as long as it did here in the city, but they kept it going because they did not want people to forget what happened and what happened to Andrew Brown Jr."

The Pasquotank Sheriff Office’s did not reply to WUNC’s recent requests for interviews.

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
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