NC city declares emergency before releasing bodycam video of deadly shooting
The deceased's family viewed some portion of the body camera footage Monday afternoon
Josh Shaffer and Martha Quillin
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — An attorney for Andrew Brown said Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies shot the Elizabeth City man multiple times while he sat in his vehicle with his hands on the steering wheel.
Attorney Chantel Lassiter addressed a crowd in Elizabeth City on Monday afternoon after viewing 20 seconds of body camera footage along with the slain man’s family.
She said the footage showed deputies blocking Brown in his driveway while serving a warrant and approaching his car while firing. Brown did not move toward them or use a weapon, and deputies fired AR 223 semi-automatic rifles and Glock 17 pistols as he attempted to back away, Lassiter said.
“Let’s be clear,” Lassiter said. “This was an execution.”
The news that Pasquotank County Attorney R. Michael Cox had limited the amount of video to 20 seconds did nothing to assuage the frustration of local residents who have gathered and marched in town since the shooting last week.
About 200 people, including national media, waited outside the Public Safety building on Monday to hear from the family and their lawyers after being shown the video.
Angela Lewis, 47, said she wasn’t surprised by officials’ handling of the video. “If this had been a citizen, they would have been arrested,” Lewis said. “These officers need to be held accountable. Warrants. We want warrants.”
The Rev. William Barber II, Goldsboro pastor and national civil rights leader, said giving the family 20 seconds of video when there may be footage from eight body cameras, the dashboard camera of a police van and more footage from a camera on a pole on the street is insufficient.
“It absolutely makes no sense,” he said. “This is no way to do justice at all. This just creates even more mistrust and gives us more reason we need legislation to address body-cam video in the law.”
By Monday evening, more than 200 people marched through downtown, carrying signs and shouting a new chant: “Release the tape! The real tape!” Twice, they stopped to confront police officers who blocked traffic for them to pass. They yelled, “Say his name! Say his name!” before moving on.
Attorneys for the Brown family accused officials in Pasquotank County of deliberately hiding footage of his shooting death as tensions escalate over the video.
In a video statement released Monday afternoon, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said “this tragic incident was quick and over in less than 30 seconds.”
“And body cameras are shaky and sometimes hard to decipher,” Wooten said. “They only tell part of the story.”
The sheriff said outside investigators from both the State Bureau of Investigation and four other sheriff’s departments were interviewing witnesses and investigating.
Elizabeth City declared a state of emergency as it braced for fresh outrage over the shooting.
“City officials realize there may potentially be a period of civil unrest within the city following the public release of that footage,” the city’s declaration said Monday.
But Brown’s family and its legal team decried the delay and possible redactions of the body-cam video, saying the slain man’s relatives were promised a chance to view raw footage.
“I want to destroy the system that puts us in this position,” said Bakari Sellers, family attorney. “I want to make sure that in the state of North Carolina they can no longer hide videos from individuals that need to see them. ... Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
Family attorney Ben Crump noted that the Parkland school shooter in Florida and other accused assailants who are white have been taken alive, unlike unarmed Black suspects.
”The most cowardly thing you can do is shoot somebody in the back,” Crump said. “They don’t shoot white people in the back.”
Dozens of local residents came to downtown Elizabeth City early Monday, setting up lawn chairs and many displaying signs.
Daija Mclean, 23, said she came out to support Brown’s family and to help put pressure on local officials to release the video, first to family members and then to the public.
“We know the video is very disturbing,” she said. “We know that much.”
Sellers asked how county officials can redact footage of the shooting without prosecutors present to monitor.
“They are trying to hide something,” said Crump. “They don’t want us to see.”
Brown, 42, died from gunshot wounds Wednesday after Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies arrived at his home on Perry Street to serve search and arrest warrants.
Carolina Public Press reported Monday that officers went to Brown’s home searching for crack cocaine and other drugs. An investigator with the Albemarle Drug Task Force applied for the warrant Tuesday, one day before Brown’s death, acting on information from confidential informants who said they bought cocaine and methamphetamine from the slain man.
Brown has a lengthy criminal history, mostly for drug offenses, but is described as nonviolent.
“I’ve never known him to resist any officer or anybody,” Jamaul Riddick, his bail bondsman and lifelong friend, told Carolina Public Press. “I mean he’s not that type of person. ... He’s never been a violent person in his life. He doesn’t carry a gun,” he said. “He’s never had a gun, never carried a gun, and he’s just not violent.”
Neighbors heard the shots and witnessed deputies shooting at Brown’s fleeing car, counting 14 shell casings near the driveway.
Brown was shot in the back, according to police radio traffic, and his car crashed into a nearby tree with its rear window shot out.
Hundreds filled the streets to protest the shooting and call for the release of body-camera footage.
By declaring a state of emergency, the city becomes eligible for state and federal aid.
City Manager Montre Freeman said there is no specific threat, and the declaration also allows him to pull resources from nearby cities.
“I invite the media and any protesters and other visitors, when we get through this, to come back to our beautiful city and visit,” he said Monday.
Barber addressed the crowd as family members and their attorneys were allowed into the public safety building at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Barber prayed for the family: children, siblings, extended family.
”You know that all we have ever wanted is justice,” he said, along with truth and transparency.
The State Bureau of Investigation said Monday there are too many variables to provide a timeline for its work on the case.
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