The sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed a 42-year-old unarmed Black man as he drove away in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, last month were justified in their actions and will not be criminally charged, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Andrew Brown Jr. was shot on April 21 when Pasquotank County deputies were attempting to serve him with an arrest warrant. The deputies shot Brown five times, including once in the back of his head, according to an independent autopsy commissioned by his family.
The State Bureau of Investigation found Brown “drove recklessly and endangered the officers” and “used his vehicle as a deadly weapon” while attempting to resist arrest, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble said at a news conference Tuesday. He said the actions of the officers were consistent with their training.
“Mr. Brown’s death, while tragic, was justified,” Womble said.
“His actions caused the three deputies to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others,” he added.
The shooting led to widespread protests in the area as demonstrators demanded transparency and that officials release the body camera footage to the public.
Brown’s family has disputed what the video shows.
A judge ruled last month that the body camera footage would not be immediately released to the public, but the court ruling allowed the family to see less than 20 minutes of more than two hours of video.
Lawyers for Brown’s family this month called the deputies “unequivocally unjustified,” saying Brown was not armed and did not drive toward deputies or pose a threat.
“What we saw on that video was an unjustified killing,” said Bakari Sellers, one of the family’s attorneys. “What we saw on that video is something that we believe also denotes further investigation and does have some criminal liability.”
Womble said Tuesday that deputies “simply couldn’t let him go” because delivering the warrant “was their job on that particular day.”
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On Tuesday, Womble showed photos and clips from four body camera videos as officers surrounded Brown’s car, the first time the footage had been showed publicly.
Womble said Brown began reversing his car when deputies approached him at his home. One of the deputy’s hands was on the hood of the car, and officers shouted for Brown to stop the car but “Brown ignored officers’ demands,” he said. The deputy had to take “evasive action” to get out of the way of the front left tire.
As deputies surrounded the vehicle, Brown’s car accelerated forward toward a deputy, Womble said. “Brown ignored the commands and drove directly at (the deputy),” he added.
This is when the first shot was fired and entered through the front window of Brown’s car, Womble said. He said Brown’s car then continued forward, and several shots were fired with one entering the passenger window and striking Brown in the shoulder. Several more entered through the rear passenger’s door and window.
The three deputies involved — Investigator Daniel Meads, Deputy Robert Morgan and Cpl. Aaron Lewellyn — have been on leave since the shooting. The sheriff’s office said Morgan is Black, while Meads and Lewellyn are white. Four others who were at the scene were reinstated after the sheriff said they didn’t fire their weapons.
There were 14 shell casings retrieved from the scene from various weapons, Womble said. He said the autopsy reports show Brown was shot once in his arm and once in his head and ruled that he died of multiple gunshot wounds. The autopsy also showed Brown had a bag of crystal meth in his mouth, Womble said.
The arrest warrants that brought police to the scene were the result of undercover buys of cocaine and heroin from Brown, Womble said. He said officers were briefed in advance about Brown’s alleged history of possessing and dealing drugs, as well as resisting arrest.
The shooting came just one day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all charges in the murder of George Floyd, prompting protests demanding transparency and the release of body camera footage in Elizabeth City.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; Associated Press
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