ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. – Body camera footage of sheriff’s deputies fatally shooting a Black man won’t immediately be released after a judge ruled Wednesday to allow at least a month for state authorities to complete an investigation into the shooting.
Andrew Brown Jr.’s family will be allowed to view additional footage of his death, Judge Jeffery Foster ruled. He also would reconsider whether to release the videos in 30 to 45 days, after the State Bureau of Investigation completes it inquiry and a charging decision can be made.
Brown was shot five times, including once in the back of his head, by deputies serving warrants at his home in Elizabeth City last week, an independent autopsy commissioned by his family and released Tuesday showed. His death caused a week of protest and demands for accountability and transparency.
Foster said he is not releasing the video out of concern that it could hamper the ongoing investigation and threaten the safety of those in the video.
Foster also ruled that Brown’s son, his immediately family and one attorney will be allowed to see more footage within 10 days, but that the faces and identification badges of the deputies should be blurred and certain segments could still be redacted. Earlier this week, they were shown a short, edited clip of the shooting.
During the hearing, District Attorney Andrew Womble challenged a Brown family attorney’s account of what occurs in the video, saying the footage shows Brown driving forward and his vehicle making contact with law enforcement before any shots are fired.
Attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter had said the bodycam video the family saw Monday showed Brown with his hands on the steering wheel of his car and not a threat to deputies, who fired as he backed his vehicle out and tried to drive away. However, Womble said Lassiter’s description was “patently false” and Brown’s vehicle made contact with deputies twice before they opened fire.
Independent autopsy:Andrew Brown Jr. shot 5 times, once fatally in back of his head
The Pasquotank County Attorney on behalf of the sheriff’s office and a coalition of media organizations, including Gannett, the parent company of USA TODAY, argued the video should be released.
Womble, who oversees Pasquotank County, sought the delay, citing concerns about any potential defendants’ right to a fair trial. If video were released and he brought criminal charges, Womble said it could bias the jury.
Womble also argued releasing the video might affect what witnesses tell state authorities that are investigating the shooting. Womble said he wouldn’t object to the video’s release if his office does not bring charges.
Arguing on behalf of the media organizations, attorney Mike Tadych said releasing the videos was in the public interest and could help dispel any rumors about what happened in Brown’s death.
Tadych said he has worked on prior cases where video has been released and it has not led to a biased jury. He also appealed to the current moment of public demands for police accountability in the U.S. as evidence for the public interest in the video.
Foster said the media does not have standing to have the video released to them but the sheriff’s office, seeking to release the video to Brown’s adult son, does.
North Carolina law allows agencies to show the video to family members privately.
Brown’s son Khalil Ferebee has said the clip they saw showed his father being “executed.”
In a statement, Brown’s family’s attorneys said they were disappointed by the decision not to release the footage and would keep up pressure in the case.
“In this modern civil rights crisis where we see Black people killed by the police everywhere we look, video evidence is the key to discerning the truth and getting well-deserved justice for victims of senseless murders,” the attorneys, including Lassiter, Ben Crump, Bakari Sellers and Harry Daniels, said.
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten also said he was disappointed by the decision and he would respect the judge’s ruling.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday called for a special prosecutor to handle the case and any decision on potential criminal charges. The FBI’s Charlotte field office said it had opened up a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death.
Multiple sheriff’s deputies serving arrest and search warrants at Brown’s home fired shots last Wednesday, Wooten has said. Seven deputies are on leave while the State Bureau of Investigation looks into the case.
Brown’s warrants were tied to alleged drug offenses. On Tuesday, Crump tweeted a clip of what he called “the militarized police force rushing to kill Andrew Brown,” showing a truck with the word “sheriff” painted on the side and packed with armed personnel.
Crump also tweeted that the video was provided by the Elizabeth City Council, but USA TODAY could not verify whether the deputies portrayed in the video were the actual deputies on their way to serve Brown the warrant.
WAVY-TV reported the video was taken by a city-owned camera mounted on a utility pole on Brown’s street
On Tuesday, another night of protests continued in Elizabeth City. The mayor previously declared a state of emergency before any possible video release and a curfew was in effect.
“It seems like every week we say no justice, no peace, but nothing gets better. We should all be tired of this so it doesn’t become a weekly event. They have to improve the training. They have to improve community policing,” Kirk Rivers, brother to the Pasquotank County NAACP President Keith Rivers, said as he led a group of marchers.
Brown’s death came one day after a jury in Minneapolis found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd and a day before a funeral was held for Daunte Wright, a Black man in Minnesota fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop.
A funeral for Brown is scheduled for Monday, where civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton will delivery the eulogy. Sharpton also delivered the eulogy at Wright’s funeral.
Family seeks answers:Why did police fatally shoot Andrew Brown Jr.?
Earlier Tuesday, Brown’s family’s attorneys released results from an autopsy the family commissioned. The independent exam showed Brown was shot four times in his arm and once in the back of his head.
“He left, tried to save his life and they continued to shoot and put a bullet in the back of his head,” family attorney Harry Daniels said.
“It’s obvious he was trying to get away. It’s obvious. And they’re going to shoot him in the back of the head?” Ferebee added.
The family’s attorneys said they welcomed the FBI’s involvement in the case to “overcome any local bias that may prevent justice from being served.” The bureau said it would work closed with the Justice Department “to determine whether federal laws were violated.”
Womble said in a statement that state law gives him the power to decide on prosecuting crimes in his district and he stands “ready, willing and able to fulfill my statutory obligations.”
Cooper, though, said a special prosecutor should handle the case. “This would help assure the community and Mr. Brown’s family that a decision on pursuing criminal charges is conducted without bias,” Cooper said in a statement.
State Attorney General Josh Stein said his office has offered assistance to the local prosecutor and cannot intervene unless asked.
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz