Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend
Judge limits footage that family can see of deputies shooting Black man in N.C.
NORFOLK — The family of a Black man who was fatally shot in his car by sheriff’s deputies in Elizabeth City, N.C., will only be shown a fraction of body camera footage recorded at the scene and could wait days longer to view it, under a judge’s written ruling.
Attorneys for Andrew Brown Jr.’s family had expected to see the video as soon as this week after Judge Jeffery Foster ruled from the bench on April 27 that the family would be shown the videos “within 10 days.” The judge also said he would specify in a written order which portions they could view.
But it took the Superior Court judge until Thursday to issue the written ruling, which says the 10-day time period starts with the date of the order.
The ruling limits the family to viewing less than 20 minutes of the nearly two hours of video that was recorded before and after Brown was killed.
“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,” Foster wrote.
Pasquotank County Manager Sparty Hammett told The Associated Press in an email that the county does not have a firm date for when it can show the video to Brown’s family. Brown family attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter confirmed that,
telling the AP in an email that, to her knowledge, “no one has contacted the family regarding a definitive date and time.”
Brown’s shooting on April 21 has drawn national attention to the small, majority Black city in the state’s rural northeastern corner. And many city residents — as well as nationally prominent civil rights leaders and attorneys — are demanding full release of the footage over concerns that the shooting was unjustified and that Brown was “executed.”
A prosecutor has said that Brown’s car ran into the deputies before they opened fire.
Foster’s order contained a brief description of the footage. The judge wrote that Brown “attempted to flee the scene and escape apprehension” and that “at least one and as many as three officers fired their weapons into the vehicle operated by Brown.”
During the April 27 hearing on the matter, Foster said he would not publicly release the footage because it could jeopardize the ongoing investigation into Brown’s death or threaten the safety of people seen in the footage.
Foster said the video must remain out of public view for at least 30 days, but he would consider releasing it after that point if investigations are complete.
Family members have so far only been allowed to view a 20-second clip from a single body camera. Cherry-Lassiter told reporters last week that shots were heard from the instant the clip started with Brown’s car in his driveway and his hands on the steering wheel.
She said he did not try to back away until after deputies ran up to his car and began shooting, and he did not pose a threat to deputies. “He finally decides to try to get away and he backs out, not toward officers at all,” Cherry-Lassiter said.
Brown was shot five times, including in the back of the head, according to an independent autopsy commissioned by his family.
District Attorney Andrew Womble, who viewed the body camera videos, told Judge Foster at the hearing that Brown’s car made “contact” with law enforcement 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 said that officers shouted commands and tried to open a car door before any shots were fired.
None of the deputies were injured, according to previous statements by the Pasquotank County sheriff, Tommy Wooten II.
Also Friday, The Virginian-Pilot reported that Wooten said this week he advised the three deputies on leave in connection with the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown to temporarily relocate from their homes as a precaution.
Wooten said in an email that some websites have published photos of the deputies and their home addresses, calling for them to be harassed. Since then, unidentified vehicles have showed up at their homes, Wooten said, but didn’t offer more details. The sheriff also said that he’s heard general threats — which he perceived as directed toward the deputies — such as “I’m going to shoot a sheriff today.”