ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — Attorneys for the family of Andrew Brown Jr. -- a Black man killed by North Carolina deputies -- said that body camera videos show his death was “unjustifiable.”
Brown’s family and their attorneys watched more than 18 minutes of body camera video of the incident on Tuesday afternoon at the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office.
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.
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.”
He described the shooting as “unconstitutional” and “unjustifiable.”
Brown was behind the wheel of his car and outside of his house in Elizabeth City when he was shot on April 21. Sheriff’s deputies working as part of a regional drug task force were serving a drug-related search warrant at the time.
A prosecutor has said that Brown’s car made “contact” with law enforcement officers before the shooting began. But Brown’s family and their attorneys have said Brown was driving away and died from an unjustified “execution.”
The office of Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II scheduled the Tuesday viewing following a judge’s ruling on Thursday that said the family could view the footage within 10 days.
“Because we’re continuing to be as transparent as we can under state law, we will be allowing the family members identified in the judge’s order to view the specified videos much sooner than the judge’s deadline requires,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement on Friday.
Judge Jeffery Foster ruled that the family can view less than 20 minutes of the nearly two hours of video that was recorded.
“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 in his ruling.
Foster has said that 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 had previously seen about 20 seconds of the video. They say it shows Brown was trying to drive away when he was shot.
Brown’s shooting 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.
Attorneys: DA should step aside from deputy shooting probe
Attorneys for the family of a Black man who was fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies in North Carolina have asked the local prosecutor to recuse himself from the investigation.
The attorneys say he’s too close to the men who fired their weapons.
Attorneys Ben Crump and Bakari Sellers said in statements Monday that District Attorney Andrew Womble’s involvement would be a “miscarriage of justice” for Andrew Brown Jr.
Womble on Monday referred to a previous statement in which he indicated that he would not step aside from the investigation. Under state law, the district attorney has to agree to let another prosecutor step in.
NC bill demands family access to bodycam footage in 5 days
Family members of a person killed by North Carolina law enforcement would be able to watch unedited officer body camera footage of what happened within about a week, according to a bill approved Monday by a state Senate committee.
The language, added to a broader criminal justice reform measure expected to clear the Senate later this week, responds to efforts by the family of Andrew Brown Jr. to view bodycam footage of the Black man’s death in Elizabeth City.
Brown was fatally shot in his car by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies last month and his family has spent the past few weeks in a legal battle to see the videos.
(WATCH: Judge denies requests to release body cam video to public in fatal shooting of Andrew Brown)
Under current law, it’s at the discretion of a sheriff’s office or police department to let an immediate family member of the person who is the subject of the footage or the family’s attorney to watch the video privately. If disappointed with what the law enforcement agency provides, the family can ask a judge to force the agency to let it review more footage.
Initially, in Brown’s case, the sheriff allowed his family members to view a 20-second clip from a single body camera. A judge later ruled that the family could watch less than 20 minutes of the nearly two hours of video that was recorded. Family members will get that chance on Tuesday.
The bill directs a law enforcement agency to let the family view the unredacted recordings within five business days of its request unless the agency asks the court if some footage can be edited or withheld. A judge may review the footage privately in deciding whether disclosing all of it would harm a person’s reputation or cause a serious threat to carrying out justice. The process also would apply to a person who was seriously injured and wants to see the footage.
Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican and the bill sponsor, said the alteration stemmed from discussions with members of the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus. He said the changes still provides a balance between the investigation and the needs of family members to see what transpired. The district attorney’s office would be allowed to weigh in before a judge rules.
“I think that if that was my loved one or if that was myself, I would want to see exactly what happened,” Britt said after the judiciary committee meeting. “However, I also believe there may be compelling reasons for that law enforcement agency to restrict what I see and what my family sees.”
Sen. Toby Fitch, a Wilson County Democrat and former judge who is Black, praised the change: “Most of all, the family needs to know, and this does exactly that.”
The provision doesn’t address the process by which the media or an individual must ask a judge to order footage be released publicly. In a move to make it less likely that the footage could be secretly recorded by someone and made public, the bill makes it a misdemeanor if anyone copies the recording unlawfully and a low-grade felony if someone makes it public.
The law currently lacks a real punishment if the video is secretly recorded and distributed, Britt said: “A law enforcement agency is probably going to be more likely to show that unredacted version if there’s some sort of repercussion.” The current body camera law was approved in 2016.
The bill, which also focuses on targeting insubordinate and overly aggressive officers while giving more mental health assistance to police and deputies, still must receive House approval. The House has passed several measures with many elements contained in the omnibus Senate legislation, but they don’t now include the body camera proposal.
(WATCH: FBI opens civil rights investigation into fatal shooting of Andrew Brown)
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