ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — A North Carolina prosecutor said Tuesday that sheriff’s deputies were justified in fatally shooting Andrew Brown Jr. because he ignored their commands and endangered at least two of them when he drove his car toward them.
District Attorney Andrew Womble said at a news conference that Brown used his car as a “deadly weapon,” causing Pasquotank County deputies to believe it was necessary to use deadly force. Womble, who acknowledged Brown wasn’t armed with guns or other weapons, said the deputies will face no criminal charges.
“Mr. Brown’s death, while tragic, was justified, because Mr. Brown’s actions caused three deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others,” Womble said.
Deputies attempting to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants shot and killed Brown outside his Elizabeth City home on April 21. Three deputies involved in the shooting remain on leave, while four others who were at the scene were reinstated after the sheriff said they didn’t fire their weapons.
Brown ignored deputies’ commands to stop and began to drive his car directly at one of the officers, Womble told a news conference. He said the first shot fired at Brown’s car went through the front windshield, not the back as was previously reported.
During his news conference, Womble said a deputy who tried to open Brown’s car door wound up partly on the hood as Brown backed up, and the deputy found himself directly in the car’s path moments later when Brown drove forward. Womble said the deputy had to push off the car with his hand to narrowly avoid being run over, and at least one of the other deputies was also endangered as the group tried to take Brown into custody on drug-related warrants.
During the news conference, Womble showed four different body camera videos from the deputies during the shooting. Womble said the total time the deputies interacted with Brown -- from the moment they arrived on scene to the moment they pulled Brown from his vehicle -- was 44 seconds.
The video showed the deputies jumping out of the back of their truck, running at Brown’s vehicle and pointing guns at him. Brown begins reversing his vehicle away from deputies. According to Womble, the back of his vehicle was blocked by his home.
At this point, Brown begins driving forward toward deputies who had surrounded his car. As Brown’s car drove forward, Womble said one deputy was forced to sidestep the vehicle to avoid being hit.
“I find that the facts of this case clearly illustrate the officers who used deadly force on Andrew Brown Jr. did so reasonably and only when a violent felon used a deadly weapon to put their lives in danger,” Womble said, referring to Brown’s car.
He added that he found that “Brown’s actions and conduct were indeed dangerous by the time of the shooting. Brown posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and others.”
The sheriff has said his deputies weren’t injured.
The prosecutor said he would not release bodycam video of the confrontation between Brown and the law enforcement officers, but did play portions of the video during the news conference that multiple news outlets broadcast live.
The shooting on April 21 sparked protests over multiple weeks by demonstrators calling for the public release of the body camera video. While authorities have shown footage to Brown’s family, a judge refused to release the video publicly pending a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation. Womble made his determination to not charge any of the officers after reviewing the bureau’s report.
An independent autopsy released by the family found that Brown was hit by bullets five times, including once in the back of the head. Lawyers for Brown’s family who watched body camera footage say that it shows Brown was not armed and that he didn’t drive toward deputies or pose a threat to them.
Womble has previously disagreed in court, saying that Brown struck deputies twice with his car before any shots were fired.
Separately, the FBI has launched a civil rights probe of the shooting.
STATE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION STATEMENT ON DA’S DECISION:
“As announced earlier this morning, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble has decided not to bring criminal charges against the law enforcement officers involved in the shooting death of Andrew Brown, Jr. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation’s (NC SBI) role in this case, as in all other criminal investigations, was to investigate the facts surrounding the incident and to then provide those facts to the prosecutor. During the course of this investigation, the NC SBI interviewed numerous witnesses, conducted crime scene analysis, collected and reviewed video footage, and engaged in other investigative activities in an attempt to conduct as thorough and complete an investigation as possible in a timely manner. After providing the facts to the District Attorney, it was his duty to apply the law to those facts to make the ultimate decision about whether criminal charges were appropriate. The NC SBI does not make any determinations as to whether criminal charges should be filed and/or determine if a person’s actions are justified or not. Furthermore, in its role as impartial fact-finder, it is not the NC SBI’s place to agree or disagree with any prosecutor’s decision regarding an investigation.
Even though a decision has now been made by the District Attorney, the NC SBI file is still not considered a public record under NCGS 132-1.4 and may only be released pursuant to a court order. Therefore, the NC SBI will not be releasing any written reports regarding the investigation. In addition, any decisions regarding the release of video footage will continue to be made by the court in accordance with NCGS 132-1.4A. As stated earlier, the NC SBI supports transparency to the greatest extent possible allowed by the law, as we think this serves the interests of the citizens of North Carolina.”
(WATCH: Andrew Brown’s family to see more footage of fatal deputy shooting)
Cox Media Group