Aunt: Man shot by deputy had hard, valuable life
Andrew Brown Jr. lost both his parents and had his own troubles with the law. But his aunt says he was the light of his family, and they will fight to find out why a sheriff’s deputy felt the need to shoot and kill him. (April 22)
More than three days after Andrew Brown, Jr. was fatally shot by Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputies in North Carolina, his family says they know little about why police killed him.
In dueling statements Saturday, the Sheriff’s department and lawyers for Brown’s family painted conflicting pictures of the state of the investigation.
Brown, a 42-year-old Black man and father of 7, was shot and killed on Wednesday while deputies were attempting to arrest him.
The family’s lawyers in interviews with USA TODAY emphasized the family had not yet seen body camera footage of the fatal encounter, even though they were entitled to under North Carolina law. The family is also seeking the public release of the footage, although such a process is more complicated under state law.
“The family has requested the footage and has not been able to obtain it,” said Harry Daniels, an Atlanta attorney who is representing the Brown family. “The sheriff is blaming the D.A. and the D.A. is blaming the sheriff.”
“Certainly, this was misconduct, and people will know that once the video has been released,” he said. “We even think there may have been criminal conduct.”
Daniels said Brown was shot in the back by the deputies as he was attempting to run away.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Tommy Wooten said the department hopes to ask a judge to make the footage public on Monday, with the sign-off of a state agency investigating the incident.
The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Department has repeatedly promised transparency in public statements in recent days.
“We want the body camera footage made public,” Wooten said. “Some people have falsely claimed that my office has the power to do so. That is not true. Only a judge can release the video.”
North Carolina’s statute governing the release of body camera footage is overly complicated, burdensome and costly to victims and their families, said C. Amanda Martin, a Raleigh, NC attorney who specializes in communications.
The statute is quite clear that family members and attorneys of people shown in the video should be allowed to at least view the footage, Martin said. While there are some caveats, it’s highly unusual for a police department to deny access to viewing body camera footage, she said.
But when it comes to releasing that footage, the law is more complicated.
Requests for copies of body camera video, even from a victim’s family members or their attorney, must be made in writing and must be made to a Superior Court judge.
A coalition of news outlets including Gannett, the parent company of USA TODAY, is drafting a petition to ask a local judge to release the footage.
“It would actually be illegal for a law enforcement agency to release it without a judge’s order,” Martin said. “The biggest complaint about this law is that it’s time consuming and expensive.”
There are a patchwork of local laws across the nation governing how police body camera footage can be made public, and it is not unusual for there to be a delay between the date of the shooting and the release of the footage.
In a recent high-profile case in Chicago, authorities made footage of the March 29 fatal shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo public on April 15.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented the family of George Floyd, who was murdered by Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin last year, announced he was joining Andrews’ legal team in a press release Saturday.
“This family and the Elizabeth City community deserve answers now,” the press release quotes Crump as saying. “While there may be a light at the end of the tunnel with one pandemic, another one continues to rage within the borders of our country — police excessive force against marginalized minorities.
In an interview with USA TODAY, Crump said he is traveling to North Carolina on Sunday to attempt to get the footage released as soon as possible.
“We’re going to get this video released,” Crump said. “We’re going to demand it not only in the court of law but also in the court of public opinion. The public pays all this money for body camera video for the single purpose of transparency.”
The Associated Press reported that seven deputies at the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Department have been put on paid administrative leave since the shooting.
“We know people want answers, we know you’re angry,” Wooten said in a Saturday Facebook video. “We ask for your patience and support as we work to do the right thing.”
Protests in Elizabeth City have largely been calm so far and at a press conference Saturday morning, officials from the small coastal town thanked protesters for remaining peaceful and lamented the delay in releasing the body camera footage.
“We probably know even less that you know,” Elizabeth City Manager Montre’ Freeman told reporters at the press conference.