Lawyers: Black man didn’t drive into deputies who shot him

Published 11:43 pm Tuesday, May 11, 2021

By Ben Finley and Jonathan Drew
Associated Press

ELIZABETH CITY — Lawyers for relatives of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man fatally shot by deputies, said Tuesday that body camera videos show that he didn’t strike them with his car before they opened fire, contradicting a local prosecutor.

Chance Lynch, a lawyer who viewed the footage in private with Brown’s family, said Brown was sitting in his stationary car with his hands on the wheel when the first of numerous shots was fired. Family members had previously seen about 20 seconds of the video but were shown approximately 18 minutes on Tuesday under a judge’s order.

The family’s lawyers say the footage contradicts statements by the local district attorney, who said in court that deputies didn’t start firing until after Brown’s vehicle struck them twice. Lynch’s description aligns with what another family attorney said after seeing the shorter clip.

“We did not see any actions on Mr. Brown’s part where he made contact with them or tried to go in their direction,” Lynch told reporters. “In fact, he did just the opposite. While there was a group of law enforcement that were in front of him, he went the opposite direction.”

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.

“My father did not deserve to die at all,” his son Jha’rod Ferebee told reporters after watching the footage. “He did not deserve to get killed in any way, shape or form. He did not pose any threat at all.”

Brown was outside his house in Elizabeth City when he was shot on April 21 , prompting days of protests by residents demanding public release of body camera footage. At the time, Pasquotank County deputies were serving search and arrest warrants that accused Brown of possessing small amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine that he intended to sell.

During a court hearing last month over the sheriff’s request to release the video, District Attorney Andrew Womble said Brown’s car was backing up when it first “made contact” with law enforcement officers, then came to a stop before moving 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 said.

Lynch said Tuesday that deputies may have reached out and touched the car as Brown tried to drive away, but that he didn’t initiate the contact.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II has said his deputies weren’t injured.

Womble didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday. Lawyers for Brown’s family, in addition to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, have called for a special prosecutor to step in. But under state law, Womble would have to agree to step aside.

An independent autopsy commissioned by Brown’s family found that he was shot five times, including in the back of the head. The state’s autopsy has not been released yet.

After last month’s hearing, Judge Jeffery Foster declined to release the video publicly, but ruled the family should be shown less than 20 redacted minutes of five videos taken from body cameras and a dashboard camera. In total, the unedited and unredacted video runs about two hours. Foster said the video must remain from public view for at least 30 days to allow an independent state investigation to unfold but that he would consider releasing it after that.

On Tuesday, shortly after the Brown family news conference, Wooten issued a statement reiterating that he would have preferred a public release of the video but that he respects the court’s decision.

Three deputies who were involved in the shooting remain on leave pending the probe by the State Bureau of Investigation. Four others initially put on leave were allowed to return to duty after the sheriff said they didn’t fire shots. The FBI has also launched a civil rights probe.