ELIZABETH CITY, North Carolina—Andrew Brown Jr., the Black man who was killed last week by North Carolina sheriff’s deputies serving a search warrant at his home, had his hands on his steering wheel when authorities opened fire at his car last Wednesday, his family’s legal team said.
The Brown family and their lawyers on Monday slammed Pasquotank County authorities for only letting them view 20 seconds of body-camera footage from the deadly encounter, even though at least eight officers were at the scene. Chanel Lassiter, one of the family’s lawyers, offered a detailed account of the footage, which has yet to be released to the public, saying it shows Andrew Brown Jr.’s hands never left the steering wheel.
The footage begins with several officers firing at Brown’s car with semi-automatic rifles and pistols, some shouting, “Stop it, motherfucker,” Lassiter said. At one point, the 42-year-old backs out of his driveway to “evade being shot,” then crashes into a tree as authorities continue firing at him, Lassiter said, calling it “an execution.”
“My dad got executed just by trying to save his own life,” Khalil Brown said during the press conference after viewing the body-camera footage with family. “My dad got executed. It ain’t right. It’s like we against all odds in this world.”
Brown’s family arrived at the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Department on Monday morning to watch the footage but weren’t able to view it for several hours, as authorities were still making redactions.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump blasted county officials, saying they were at first told that only two relatives would be able to see the video—and without their lawyers present. Bakari Sellers, another attorney, added that during a contentious debate over the footage, Pasquotank County Attorney Michael Cox said he was not going to be “fucking bullied.”
“We do not feel that we got transparency,” Crump said, adding that the video shown to the family was “only a snippet.” “We know the video started before and after what they showed the family. And they determined what was pertinent. Why wouldn’t the family see the whole video? They only showed one body-cam video even though we know there were several body-cam videos.”
Brown’s family plans to go to court Wednesday to demand the release of more body-camera videos. They also want all the officers involved to be terminated and charged. The family will release findings from an independent autopsy report on Tuesday.
Cox said in a Monday statement that since getting approval Sunday evening to show the Brown family the footage, his office went to work immediately to “blur some faces on the video, and that process takes time.” He added that the redactions are in accordance with state law to protect an “active internal investigation” and that authorities are “continuing to seek transparency within the law and continue our efforts to get a court order that would allow the video to be released to the public.”
The Wednesday shooting prompted hundreds of North Carolina residents to take to the streets in outrage—only hours after a Minneapolis jury found former officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. Ahead of the release of the body-camera footage, Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker declared a state of emergency that will continue indefinitely during what authorities say they believe may be a “period of civil unrest.” The order means all city offices and local schools are closed until at least the end of the week.
On Monday evening, hundreds of protesters hit the streets of Elizabeth City, at one point marching along Ehringhaus Street, a busy four-lane road just a few blocks from where Brown was shot to death. Together they chanted “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “Release the tape! The real tape!” Waving flags, holding signs over their heads, the crowd slowly made its way up the road, as law-enforcement vehicles, their blue lights flashing, moved ahead and behind the protesters.
“My heart’s broken over the whole situation,” said Dawne Hollis-Custer, a pastor at the Newland United Methodist Church who was gathered with at least 100 residents outside the Pasquotank County Public Safety Building on Monday. “Everyone is in pain.”
“Everybody says it’ll never happen where we are, but it did,” she added.
Keith Rivers, president of the local branch of the NAACP, insisted in an interview with The Daily Beast that “they executed him.”
“He was in his car—with his hands on the steering wheel,” he said, warning anyone coming to the city with violent intentions that they would be in “the wrong place.”
“This is our narrative,” he said. “We will continue to push for justice.”
There have been days of legal hurdles put up by state, city, and local law-enforcement officials in making the footage public. Under North Carolina law, body-camera footage cannot be released unless there is a court order because it is not considered to be public record. During an emergency Elizabeth City Council meeting Friday, officials unanimously voted to petition Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten to release the body-camera video.
In a Monday video statement, Pasquotank Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg said that the department will “comply with the judge’s order” to release the body-cam footage. Wooten added that “this tragic incident was quick and over in less than 30 seconds” and that body-camera videos are “shaky and sometimes hard to decipher.”
He added that investigators, including the FBI, are interviewing witnesses and seeking more information about the shooting.
Brown’s death marks the latest in a string of police shootings involving Black residents across the U.S. Last Tuesday, a Columbus, Ohio police officer shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’khia Bryant after she appeared to have lunged at someone with a knife during a fight in front of her home. The shocking incident, which was captured on police body cameras, came just minutes before Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Earlier this month, a white police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, apparently firing her service weapon by accident instead of a Taser during the traffic stop.
“We know people want answers. We know you’re angry. We understand and respect that. But we’re following a process that protects the investigation to ensure fairness for all,” Wooten said Saturday. “We ask for your patience and your support as you work to do the right thing. We want transparency, accountability, and peace.”
The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office said on Thursday that Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, was shot at around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday while deputies were serving a search warrant and arrest warrant in the 400 block of Perry Street in Elizabeth City on felony drug charges.
In a brief video statement Thursday, Fogg said the arrest warrant operation was classified as “high-risk” because Brown was a convicted felon with a history of resisting arrest. The search warrant, first obtained by WAVY, states that authorities were watching Brown for over a year for alleged drug activity. The investigation reportedly included a confidential informant buying drugs from Brown.
Court records show that Brown had a history of criminal charges since the 1990s, including a misdemeanor drug-possession conviction and at least two pending felony drug charges. Fogg said for that reason deputies were accompanied by their local version of a SWAT team, and other agencies were assisting them.
Brown’s family has said no drugs or weapons were seized from the 42-year-old’s property or car, according to Harry Daniels, one of their lawyers.
Brown’s neighbor Demetria Williams previously told the Associated Press that after hearing gunshots outside, she ran out to see a deputy firing multiple times. She said the car that Brown was driving then skidded into a tree.
“When they opened the door, he was already dead,” Williams said. “He was slumped over.”
Williams said she saw deputies attempt chest compressions on Brown. Authorities later removed a car from the scene with a broken rear windshield and multiple bullet holes, the AP reported.
Seven officers involved have been put on administrative leave, Wooten said last week. Three others have also resigned from the force after Brown’s shooting, though the deputies claim their decision to leave was not related.
“You know it’s something bad on that video if they put seven deputies on administrative leave, two deputies resigned, and another took early retirement,” Crump said Monday. “It's like a cliche... They shoot us in the back as if the most dangerous thing in the world to a police officer is a Black man running away.”