Police shooting of Andrew Brown justified, NC district attorney concludes

The fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on April 21 was justified because the man’s actions while trying to evade arrest led deputies to “reasonably believe” deadly force was necessary, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble announced Tuesday at a news conference.

As a result, the three officers who fired their guns will not face charges in Brown’s death.

WARNING: Very extreme images, language

In a statement released a few hours after the news conference, attorneys for Brown’s families decried Womble’s conclusion.

“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,” the statement said. “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. And the bottom line is that Andrew was killed by a shot to the back of the head.”

Attorneys for the family who watched body camera footage have said repeatedly that Brown was trying to drive away from deputies serving drug-related warrants and posed no threat.

Many of the two dozen people who gathered outside the municipal building where Womble held his news conference said they were disappointed by his decision. Some said they would hold a protest march in Elizabeth City on Tuesday evening.

In his unilateral determination, Womble presented portions of never-before-seen bodycam video footage of the shooting at the news conference in the county’s public safety building, saying the first shot fired at Brown’s car went through the front windshield, not the back as was previously reported.

“I find that the facts of this case clearly illustrate the officers who used deadly force on Andrew Brown Jr. did so reasonably and only when a violent felon used a deadly weapon to put their lives in danger,” Womble said, referring to Brown’s car. He added that he found that “Brown’s actions and conduct were indeed dangerous by the time of the shooting. ... Brown posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and others.”

Previously, Womble was the first public official to say that Brown hit Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies with his car before they opened fire and killed him while serving drug and arrest warrants at his Elizabeth City home nearly a month ago.

On Tuesday, Womble said one of the officers was on the hood of Brown’s vehicle and shouting commands for him to stop as the man tried to pull out of his driveway, and then accelerated toward him and other officers. At that time, the officers opened fire for the first time, Womble said, adding that Brown’s car made contact with the officers twice prior to the first shot being fired.

The exact timing of events that day remains in dispute, however, as family attorneys have not had an opportunity to view the complete camera footage of the incident and continue to maintain that the 42-year-old father of seven was “executed” while sitting in his car in fear for his life.

Brown was actively resisting arrest and attempting to flee when he aggressively “used his vehicle as a deadly weapon,” Womble said.

Officers were directly in the path of the car and fired their weapons to “neutralize the threat,” Womble said.

During questions at the news conference, some reporters noted that Brown’s car had turned away from the officers before the shooting started.

Reporters ask questions after Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble announced he will not charge deputies in the April 21 fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr.

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Brown family lawyers continue to express outrage that the full body camera footage has remained concealed from the public nearly a full month after the shooting.

Brown family attorneys described the shooting as “an execution” following the family’s first viewing of a heavily redacted version of body camera footage which showed Brown had his hands on the steering wheel throughout the entire episode.

Only one officer’s body cam footage was shown to the family, and no other footage or dashcam video was presented, according to attorneys.

For days, witnesses at the scene had been the only ones to provide any early accounts of the shooting in which Brown was mortally wounded as Pasquotank County sheriff’s officers executed a search warrant about 8:30 a.m. April 21 at Brown’s residence just west of the Outer Banks.

Brown had no weapons and was unarmed at the time.

The results of an independent autopsy revealed Brown was shot five times and killed by a single gunshot to the back of the head.

Brown sustained four shots to his right arm, which were non-fatal wounds, attorneys said. As he attempted to escape the gunfire by pulling his car out of a driveway at his home, he was shot in the back of the head, killing him, said family attorney Ben Crump, citing an independent pathologist hired by Brown’s family to examine his body.

Three deputies involved in the shooting remain on leave, while four others who were at the scene were reinstated after the sheriff said they didn’t fire their weapons.

The officers who were cleared to return to duty were identified as Lt. Steven Judd, Sgt. Michael Swindell, Sgt. Kenneth Bishop and Sgt. Joel Lunsford.

Lunsford was one of the deputies who was hit by Brown’s car, Womble said Tuesday.

The three officers who remain on administrative leave were identified as Investigator Daniel Meads, Deputy Sheriff Robert Morgan and Cpl. Aaron Lewellyn, all of whom fired their weapons at Brown in some capacity.

More than a week after the shooting, Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster denied a media request to immediately release police body camera footage to the public, which has continued to demand answers about what exactly happened that led to Brown’s death.

Brown’s son Khalil Ferebee and other immediate family members have since been allowed to view redacted footage from dashcam and body cameras worn by four of the officers involved. The viewing amounted to only a few minutes of more than two hours of available video, reports said.

The videos are still being withheld from a wider release to the public to allow ongoing investigations to be completed, Foster said. The court was to consider releasing the footage anywhere from 30 to 45 days following the judge’s ruling.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II and Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg issued a statement a day after the shooting suggesting deputies at the scene feared Brown was a dangerous suspect due to his criminal history.

In the weeks before the shooting, Pasquotank authorities became aware of Brown after a detective with the Dare County Sheriff’s Office received information from a confidential source that Brown was selling drugs in Dare County, said Womble, who repeatedly described Brown during Tuesday’s news conference as a known drug dealer.

Undercover officers purchased cocaine and heroin laced with fentanyl from Brown, which led to search warrants and felony arrest warrants being issued for the sale of controlled substances, Womble said.

The morning of the shooting, the deputies were briefed on Brown’s criminal history and interactions with law enforcement, including resisting arrest charges and convictions for assault, assault with a deadly weapon and assault inflicting serious injury convictions dating back to 1995, Womble said.

Police on a drug task force reportedly watched Brown for more than a year prior to the shooting.

Brown’s death happened as police departments across the country are facing increased scrutiny from the public following a series of recent high-profile police killings and custody deaths of unarmed Black men and women.

The incident in Elizabeth City came one day after police in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl who was involved in an altercation with two other girls and lunged at one or both of them with a knife.

Another recent police shooting of an unarmed Black man occurred April 11 outside Minneapolis when 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed during a traffic stop in which Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter said she mistakenly fired her gun instead of a Taser.

Both episodes occurred during the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty April 20 on three counts of killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.