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Andrew Brown Jr.: From push for justice to DA’s announcement of ‘justified’ shooting in N.C.

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 4:15 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV/CBS/WITN/AP) - Andrew Brown Jr. was the victim of an officer-involved shooting in North Carolina.

On April 21, Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by a Pasquotank County deputies while law enforcement officers were serving drug-related search and arrest warrants on his Perry Street home in Elizabeth City.

The deadly shooting sparked protests across the state, and the nation, over police brutality.

Andrew Brown Jr. laid to rest as calls for justice continue
Andrew Brown Jr. laid to rest as calls for justice continue

On Tuesday, the district attorney said the shooting was justified.

Attorney Chance Lynch said Brown was “ambushed,” and at no point did they see him pose a threat to any law enforcement officer, contradicting what the district attorney told a judge during a court hearing three weeks ago.

Pasquotank County’s district attorney said Tuesday the results of the SBI investigation into the fatal Andrew Brown Jr was justified.

District attorney Andrew Womble said the three deputies involved will not be charged in the shooting.

Womble said during Tuesday’s news conference, however, that Brown’s “actions caused three deputies to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others.”

The district attorney said deputies clearly identified themselves to Brown, who refused orders to stop and drove his car directly at one of the officers.

**WARNING: VIDEO BELOW CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT. VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED.

Womble played the video from multiple police body cameras during the news conference.

He said the first shot fired at Brown’s car went through the front windshield, not the back as was previously reported.

Womble said the deputies involved had no prior excessive force complaints against them.

“The officers’ actions were consistent with their training and fully supported under the law in protecting their lives and this community,” Womble said during a press conference.

The district attorney said that Brown used his car as a “deadly weapon,” causing Pasquotank County deputies to believe it was necessary to use deadly force.

Womble acknowledged Brown wasn’t armed with guns or other weapons as deputies were trying to take him into custody while serving drug-related warrants at his house in Elizabeth City on April 21.

In the footage played to reporters, the deputies are seen jumping out of the back of a sheriff’s office pickup truck as it pulls up to Brown’s house. The deputies then rush toward Brown, who was in his car.

As the deputies surround the car, one of them, who Womble identified as Deputy Joel Lunsford, tried to open the driver’s side door.

Womble said Brown was holding his phone when the deputies approached the vehicle and that Brown threw the phone down and began to rapidly back the car away from the deputies. As the car backed away, the door handle came out of Lunsford’s hand, Womble said.

Brown then drove the car forward and to the left between two deputies as he was told to stop the vehicle. As the car was moving, Lunsford appeared to briefly brace his left hand against the passenger side of the hood.

“It was at this moment that the first shot is fired,” Womble said. He said the first shot fired at Brown’s car went through the front windshield, not the back as was previously reported.

As Brown drove away, the deputies opened fire with bullets entering the car through the passenger side of the car, the rear windshield and the trunk, according to Womble. He said the incident lasted a total of 44 seconds.

The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputy was placed on leave pending a review by the State Bureau of Investigation, Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said at a news conference. Court records show Brown was 42 years old and had a history of drug charges and a misdemeanor drug possession conviction.

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

Four others who were at the scene were reinstated after the sheriff said they didn’t fire their weapons.

Dozens of people gathered at the scene of the shooting in Elizabeth City, a municipality of about 18,000 people 170 miles northeast of Raleigh, where they expressed their anger and rallied around Brown’s family members.

A large crowd later stood outside City Hall while the City Council held an emergency meeting, some holding signs proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop killing unarmed Black Men.”

As the evening wore on, a group gathered in the parking lot of the sheriff’s office and a crowd that grew to more than 200 blocked traffic on a main thoroughfare of the city, forcing cars to turn around.

Family, attorneys and advocates say Andrew Brown death was an “unjustified” murder.

“The bottom line is that Andrew was killed by a shot to the back of the head,” the attorneys said. “Interestingly, none of these issues were appropriately addressed in today’s press conference.”

Sheriff Tommy Wooten said they want the body camera footage of the shooting death of Andrew Brown, Jr. be made public.

Under North Carolina law, the release of the video can be done by a judge.

In a recorded statement, Sheriff Wooten and Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg said they have asked the SBI to confirm that releasing of the video will not undermine their investigation.

Attorney General Josh Stein has also joined in on calls for the video to be released, saying in a statement that his office has reached out to District Attorney Andrew Womble to offer their assistance.

“I believe the bodycam video should be made available to the family and released publicly without undue delay,” Stein said. “Transparency is critically important in situations like this.”

Governor Roy Cooper also released a statement

The North Carolina Senate has voted to make an adjustment to the state’s police body cam video release law that would clarify families’ access to view the footage.

The North Carolina State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 300, a wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill.

The bill includes a provision to allow a family to view unredacted body camera footage within five business days after a serious police incident that results in death or serious injury.

The amendment permits a law enforcement agency to petition a court if it believes the footage should be redacted in some way (e.g., if the video captures a confidential informant).

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said the family of Andrew Brown, Jr. was allowed to view the body camera video of his shooting on Tuesday, May 11.

This after a judge finally issued his written order, which gives the sheriff 10 days to show the video and then limited the amount of video they can actually see.

That’s according to a judge’s written ruling.

At a hearing, Pitt County Judge Jeff Foster okayed the family and one attorney viewing video from four body cameras and one dash camera within 10 days.

While there are nearly two hours of video, the judge’s order now limits the family to just seeing 18 minutes and 41 seconds. “The portions of the videos withheld are found to not contain images of the deceased, and thus are not appropriate for disclosure at this time,” Judge Foster wrote.

After press conferences, protests and outrage, Pasquotank County officials finally allowed Andrew Brown’s family to see the police body-camera video.

However, in a press conference, the family said they were only able to see 20 seconds of the video.

Attorney Chance Lynch, who described the shooting as “unconstitutional” and “unjustified,” said body camera footage of the shooting’s aftermath shows that deputies found no weapons on Brown.

An attorney who watched the video called the shooting of Brown an “execution.”

Chantel Lassiter said Brown was in his driveway with his hands on the steering wheel of his car. “They ran up to his car shooting,” said Lassiter.

The attorney said Brown still had his hands on the steering wheel as he backed out of the driveway, away from the deputies.

People marched and shouted.

Andrew Brown’s family and attorneys addressed the crown.

There were calls for justice as Brown was laid to rest on May 3.

The Rev. Al Sharpton issued a powerful call for transparency and the release of body camera footage at the funeral Monday for Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man shot and killed by deputies in North Carolina, with the civil rights leader likening withholding the video to a “con” job done on the public.

“I know a con game when I see it. Release the whole tape and let the folks see what happened to Andrew Brown,” Sharpton told mourners in a scorching eulogy at the invitation-only service at a church in Elizabeth City.

“You don’t need time to get a tape out. Put it out! Let the world see what there is to see. If you’ve got nothing to hide, then what are you hiding?” he said, to loud applause.

An independent autopsy commissioned by his family said Brown was shot five times, including once in the back of the head. Family members who were privately shown a portion of the body camera video say Brown was trying to drive away when he was shot. The shooting sparked days of protests in the city in rural northeastern North Carolina.

Other speakers included Brown’s sons as well as civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Brown’s family. Calling Brown’s death an “unjustifiable, reckless shooting,” Crump told mourners the legal team would continue fighting for justice and transparency.

“We are here to make this plea for justice because Andrew was killed unjustifiably, as many Black men in America have been killed: shot in the back. Shot, going away from the police. And because Andrew cannot make the plea for justice, it is up to us to make the plea for justice,” Crump said.

Relatives of other Black men killed by law enforcement officers, including siblings of George Floyd, Eric Garner’s mother and Daunte Wright’s sister also spoke at the service. Bridgett Floyd described the “sleepless nights, long days, heartache and pain” that she knows Brown’s family is facing, having experienced the killing of her brother by a police officer in Minnesota who was later convicted of murder.

After Brown’s funeral, she told reporters it was important for her to come to North Carolina to show support for his family.

“I’m showing them strength right now. If I can do it, they can do it,” she said.

A long line of mourners filed into the church, many wearing white T-shirts with Brown’s image and the words, “Say his name.” In the lobby, a wreath of red and white flowers with a ribbon bearing the message, “Rest in Peace Drew,” referring to Brown’s nickname, stood next to a tapestry with images of him. As the service started, an ensemble sang songs of praise including, “You’re the Lifter,” while mourners stood and clapped.

Family members have said that Brown was a proud father of seven, who was known for entertaining relatives with his stories and jokes.

During his eulogy, Sharpton slammed the notion that Brown’s past record or actions on the day of the shooting justified violence against him.

“Whatever record Andrew had, Andrew didn’t hurt nobody,” he said, adding: “How do you try and justify shooting a man that was not a threat to you, because he was running away from you?”

Among those attending the service was 40-year-old Davy Armstrong, who said he went to high school with Brown and lived near him while the two were growing up. He said Brown seemed to be doing well when he ran into him recently before the shooting.

“He was very humble, very generous. He said he was doing good,” said Armstrong, who works in construction. “We hear about this on TV all the time. But when it’s someone so well known and so respected, it’s pretty painful.”

After the funeral, 67-year-old Michael Harrell, who lives around the corner from Brown’s house, recalled that he would see Brown playing with his kids in the yard.

“Everything is in God’s hands,” Harrell said of the message he took away from the funeral. “And through God’s hands, truth and justice will be served. People will be held accountable.”

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