WASHINGTON (NPR): An investigation by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation into the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. by Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputies last month found that the shooting was justified.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, District Attorney Andrew Womble read the findings. He said Brown’s shooting by three deputies was “tragic” but “justified,” because law enforcement “reasonably believed” they were in danger.
Brown, 42, was shot and killed in his car by deputies as they arrived to carry out warrants in drug-related charges in Elizabeth City on April 21. He was killed just a day after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the death of George Floyd.
Brown’s family has called his death an “execution.”
Womble described Brown’s drug-related charges that led to the warrants for his arrest, and showed still images from deputies’ body cameras as he described what he said happened that day. Protesters could be heard chanting outside while Womble spoke.
The district attorney then showed four body camera videos of the incident, which unfolded within seconds. Officers are seen arriving at Brown’s residence in the bed of a law enforcement vehicle, holding rifles or handguns. Brown is in his car outside his house, and deputies immediately pull their weapons and train them on Brown.
Brown puts his car in reverse and backs up, and deputies move on foot to surround it. Boxed in, Brown turns the wheel and puts the car in drive. He then drives forward in the direction of a deputy. The officers quickly open fire and strike Brown’s vehicle with multiple shots.
Womble said law enforcement fired the first shot into the front windshield and then several others into the back of the vehicle as it drove away and toward other responding law enforcement officers. Fourteen shell casings were found at the scene.
A medical examiner found that Brown died from a bullet to the head. Brown was also shot in the arm and had other abrasions on his body that appeared to be caused by shrapnel.
Asked if officers might not have simply let Brown go and arrested him at another time, rather than shooting him, Womble said “they simply couldn’t let him go.”
“Law enforcement officers are duty bound,” he said, and delivering the warrant “was their job on that particular day.”
“Mr. Brown’s response to that was to flee,” Womble said.
The district attorney says that he believes Brown’s aim was to flee, not to injure the officers – but that if he was going to attempt to flee, he had no choice but to drive at the officers. Womble says he believes Brown fled because he did not want officers to find drugs that he had in his possession, though he acknowledged he was speculating as to Brown’s intentions.
Brown’s family viewed about 20 minutes of body camera and dashcam footage last week. They say the videos show deputies standing on a sidewalk firing multiple times at Brown, and that deputies “ambushed” him as he sat in his car. They say Brown never posed a threat to the deputies, and there were no weapons found in the vehicle.
Video of the incident had not been previously released publicly, per a state law that dictates it’s up to a superior court judge to order the release of body camera footage. Judge Jeffrey Foster blocked release of the footage, except to Brown’s family, until the state completed its investigation.
Womble says his showing of the videos was “display” and not “release” of the footage, and that release of bodycam footage will be done through the courts.
Brown’s family members have pushed for Womble to be removed from the case, arguing that he is too close to the county sheriff’s office.