A Black man was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy in Elizabeth City, N.C., as police were attempting to arrest him Wednesday, authorities said, sparking more protests as a community is demanding answers on a police death with few details.
At least three officers involved in the shooting resigned Friday, according to local news reports. The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office is being pressed to release the body-cam footage of the police encounter that killed Andrew Brown Jr., 42, after declining to share much information about the events that resulted in the shooting. Harry Daniels, an attorney for the victim’s family, told The Washington Post that Brown – whose death triggered peaceful demonstrations of hundreds over two nights – was unarmed at the time of shooting.
“From what we have gathered and learned, it was a very disturbing, unjustified shooting,” Daniels said.
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said in a video statement that the deputy fired at Brown when he started to flee as authorities tried to serve him a search warrant and an arrest warrant on felony drug charges. Ten of the deputies at the scene, who have yet to be named, were placed on administrative leave Thursday. On Friday, three of those deputies resigned, according to the local television station CBS17.
“What I will say is that if evidence shows that any of my deputies violate the law or policies, they will be held accountable,” Wooten said.
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the details surrounding Brown’s death. Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble emphasized the investigation would provide “accurate answers and not fast answers.”
Representatives with the sheriff’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.
The shooting in Elizabeth City came at a critical moment for policing in America: one day after Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was fatally shot during an altercation in Columbus, Ohio. In North Carolina, police are under additional scrutiny after a Black librarian on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against law enforcement in the city of Salisbury accusing officers of pulling her by her hair and tearing her shoulder during a 2019 traffic stop.
At around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the sheriff’s office said, deputies arrived at the 400 block of Perry Street to execute an arrest warrant for Brown in Elizabeth City, located about 45 miles south of Norfolk. Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg said in a video statement that Brown was “a felon with a history of resisting arrest,” but he did not release additional details. Court records show Brown had been previously convicted of misdemeanor drug possession and had pending drug charges.
“Our training and our policies indicate under such circumstances there is a high risk of danger,” Fogg said in the recorded statement.
Those who watched the encounter told local media that Brown got into his car and started to drive away from law enforcement. That’s when, neighbors say, the sheriff’s deputies started shooting at Brown, firing off six to eight shots. The News & Observer said that one neighbor said she found 14 shell casings. Daniels told The Post that it remained unclear whether Brown was shot at from outside his car. He added that all three deputies fired their guns.
Police have yet to release any information about whether Brown was unarmed.
Neighbor Demetria Williams recounted to the Associated Press that Brown’s car skidded from his yard and hit a tree. She told WITN that the deputies tried to resuscitate Brown after the shooting but that it was too late.
“When they opened the door, he was slumped over already,” Williams said, adding that Brown “wasn’t a threat.”
“I knew he was gone,” Williams said.
When authorities removed Brown’s vehicle, the car was riddled with multiple bullet holes and had a broken rear windshield, AP reported.
Jean Ferebee, a neighbor who identified herself as a longtime friend of Brown’s, said to WITN that her son woke up Wednesday morning “with fear in his face” because of the shooting.
“Where is the justification?” Ferebee said. “Nothing is being justified to these people. Nothing is being justified.”
The shooting drew immediate calls from local officials and residents for law enforcement to release more information on the case, as well as the body-cam footage. The NAACP of North Carolina on Thursday demanded “a thorough investigation of the Sheriff’s Department.” At a city council meeting Wednesday, Councilor Gabriel Adkins said the city of almost 18,000 had boarded up storefronts and feared additional incidents because of the shooting and the police response to it.
“People are scared,” Adkins said.
The push to release the body-cam footage of the incident this week has shed light on the difficulties of releasing such video in North Carolina. According to state law, North Carolina authorities are required to release body-cam footage only if there’s a court order. Daniels said that a motion would be filed Friday for the release of the video.
Carolina Public Press is coordinating with several other news organizations to request the video from a superior court judge. Mike Tadych, an attorney with the coalition of newsrooms filing the motion, told The Post that a hearing for release of the video could come as early as next week. A similar journalism coalition was successful in obtaining the body-cam and security footage from the 2019 death of John Neville at Forsyth County Detention Center in North Carolina.
In a joint statement Thursday evening, Womble and Pasquotank County Attorney R. Michael Cox said they were working to arrange “a private viewing” of the video for Brown’s family. But Daniels argued that the sheriff’s office needed to release the video before the demonstrations potentially escalate as public frustration mounts.
On Friday afternoon, the City Council voted unanimously to petition the county sheriff to release the body camera video.
“The sheriff’s office needs to understand that the spotlight is going to grow and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” Daniels said.
As peaceful protests unfolded Thursday evening on the streets of Elizabeth City, demonstrators demanded answers from the sheriff’s office, chanting “Where’s Wooten?” and “What’s his name? Andrew Brown!” They held up signs that read, “Justice for Andrew Brown.”
Brown’s family members remembered him for his smile and “great heart.” Glenda Brown Thomas, his aunt, told the AP that Brown lived a hard life – he was partially paralyzed because of an accidental shooting and had lost an eye from a stabbing. Despite his troubles, Thomas said Brown encouraged his kids to do well in school, even though he had dropped out. She noted to the outlet that despite his previous record, he found ways to financially support his family, including through card games and shooting pool.
“He was kind of like a comedian,” she said of the nephew she called “Drew.” “He always had a nice joke.”
Lydia Brown, Andrew’s grandmother, said she didn’t find out about his death until she saw it on television. The 92-year-old noted to the News & Observer that her grandson was “a good person,” a father of 10 who was getting his life in order by having his own house – a condition required for getting custody of his children.
“I just worry about this. Why did it have to be a gun involved for a warrant? He didn’t do anything so bad,” she said. “They shot my grandson like he was a bear.”