All officers involved identified; those back on job never opened fire, sheriff says

The sheriff of Pasquotank County has released the names of seven deputies who were placed on administrative leave following last week’s fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man, and four of the officers have been cleared to return to active duty, according to reports.

ExplorePREVIOUS COVERAGE: North Carolina man was killed by shot to the back of head, autopsy reveals

“Today, I’m releasing the names of the seven deputies who I placed on administrative leave after this incident,” Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said in a statement Thursday before releasing the names of the officers involved in serving drug and arrest warrants on Andrew Brown Jr., who tried to drive away as police surrounded his car with guns drawn outside his Elizabeth City, North Carolina, home.

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

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, according to Wooten.

“After reviewing the preliminary conclusions of the independent investigators conducting the internal review, and after carefully examining the body camera footage of the incident with my own staff, it’s obvious that four of the deputies never fired their weapons and deserve to be reinstated to active duty,” Wooten said.

ExplorePolice custody death of Black man in Texas ruled homicide

Brown was shot five times and killed by a single gunshot to the back of the head, according to the results of an independent autopsy released Tuesday by the family.

On Wednesday, 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.

During the court hearing, District Attorney Andrew Womble said Brown’s car hit sheriff’s deputies before they opened fire, contradicting Brown family attorneys who said Brown’s car was stationary when deputies began shooting.

It was the first time any public official in the case indicated Brown did anything to threaten law enforcement officers.

ExploreTHIS WEEK: Man dies after California officers pin him to ground for 5 minutes

Womble said the video shows that Brown’s car made contact with the Pasquotank County deputies twice before shots could be heard on the video.

“As it backs up, it does make contact with law enforcement officers,” he said, adding that the car stops again. “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.”

Womble argued that body camera video from the shooting, a portion of which was shown to the family on Monday, should be kept from the public for another month so that state investigators can make progress on their probe of the shooting.

Lawyers for the Brown family, on the other hand, continue to express outrage that the full body camera footage remains concealed from the public now a full week after the shooting.

On Wednesday, Foster ordered that Brown’s son Khalil Ferebee and other immediate family members be allowed to view redacted footage from dashcam and body cameras worn by four of the officers involved within 10 days. Foster also declared the officers’ faces must be blurred in the videos before their release.

The videos will be held from release to the family for no less than 30 days and no more than 45 days, which will allow ongoing investigations to be completed, Foster said. The court will consider release at that point, depending on any potential charges.

The hearing was held a day after the FBI regional office in Charlotte announced that it had opened a federal civil rights investigation into the case.

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

Brown sustained four shots to his right arm, which were non-fatal wounds, family 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 attorney Ben Crump, citing an independent pathologist hired by Brown’s family to examine his body.

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

“We do not feel that we got full transparency,” Crump said Monday. “We only saw a snippet of the video... They only showed one body cam video, when we know there were several videos.”

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.

Family members said Brown, a father of seven children, had no weapons and was unarmed at the time.

On Tuesday, the results of an independent autopsy revealed Brown, an unarmed Black man, was shot five times and killed by a single gunshot to the back of the head when North Carolina sheriff’s deputies opened fire on his car as they moved in to serve drug and arrest warrants.

On Tuesday, Crump also shared a video from the Elizabeth City Council on social media showing a band of deputies in tactical gear riding in the bed of a sheriff’s pickup truck as they rounded a street corner on their way to Brown’s home.

Wooten 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.

Nearby Dare County had issued two arrest warrants for Brown on drug-related charges including possession with intent to sell cocaine. Brown, 42, had a criminal history dating back to the 1990s, including past drug convictions.

Police on a drug task force reportedly watched Brown for more than a year prior to the shooting, according to WAVY TV reporter Jason Marks.

The Brown shooting 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.

Explore LAST WEEK: Unarmed Black man shot 10 times after Virginia sheriff’s deputy opens fire

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.