ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. – Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten on Thursday released the names of seven deputies involved in the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. on April 21.
All seven were originally placed on administrative leave after the shooting, but a review of body-camera footage shows four of the deputies never fired a weapon, Wooten said in the release. Those deputies have been reinstated to active duty.
“More investigation is necessary into the three deputies who did fire their weapons and they will remain on administrative leave pending completion of the internal investigation and/or the criminal investigation being conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation,” Wooten says in the release.
Andrew Brown Jr. was shot five times — including once in the back of his head, a family-backed autopsy showed — as deputies were serving search and arrest warrants at Brown’s home in Elizabeth City.
The seven deputies identified by Wooten are:
- Investigator Daniel Meads (on administrative leave)
- Deputy Sheriff II Robert Morgan (on administrative leave)
- Corporal Aaron Lewellyn (on administrative leave)
- Lieutenant Steven Judd (active duty)
- Sergeant Michael Swindell (active duty)
- Sergeant Kenneth Bishop (active duty)
- Sergeant Joel Lunsford (active duty)
Here’s what we know Thursday:
When will a judge reconsider whether to release bodycam video?
Brown’s family will be allowed to view more bodycam footage of his death within 10 days, a judge ruled after deciding not to release the videos publicly.
Judge Jeff Foster said Wednesday that he would reconsider arguments over whether to release the footage after a State Bureau of Investigation inquiry is complete and the district attorney can make a decision on any potential charges.
Foster’s decision not to release the video drew condemnation from attorneys representing Brown’s family. Lawyers for a coalition of media organizations that sought the release said they’d consider an appeal after reading Foster’s full written order.
A funeral for Brown is scheduled for Monday; civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy.
Foster said he would reconsider whether to release the footage within 30 to 45 days. District Attorney Andrew Womble said he believes the State Bureau of Investigation, which is overseeing an independent inquiry into the shooting, will be able to complete its work and he can make any potential charging decisions within that timeframe.
Foster said he was not releasing the footage out of caution to prevent any potential threat to a fair and impartial trial if charges were to be brought. He said release now could also threaten the safety of those seen in the footage.
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A Pasquotank County attorney petitioned to have the footage released to Brown’s family on behalf of the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office. Wooten said he was disappointed the video won’t be released immediately but he would respect the judge’s ruling.
“Although we’re unable to show the public what happened right now, the independent investigators are working to complete their investigation. As soon as all of the important facts are given to me, I will act quickly to ensure accountability and I’ll be as transparent as I possibly can with the public,” Wooten said.
Foster said Brown’s family must be allowed to view the footage within 10 days, however. Faces and identification badges of the deputies involved will be blurred and some sections may be cut.
A coalition of news media organizations, including Gannett, the parent company of USA TODAY, petitioned to have the footage released, too.
Foster ruled the media did not have standing to have the video released to them.
“If the media don’t have standing to petition the court for release of law enforcement video, the general public does not either. We believe that is legally incorrect,” Mike Tadych and Amanda Martin, attorneys representing the coalition, said in a statement. “We will review the judge’s written order when we receive it and decide at that point how best to appeal it immediately.”
Brown family attorney, district attorney offer different accounts of bodycam
Brown’s family on Monday viewed a partial, edited clip of body camera video of the shooting.
After viewing the video with the family, attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter said it showed Brown with his hands on the steering wheel of his car and not a threat to deputies.
“They run up to his vehicle shooting,” Cherry-Lassiter said. “He finally decides to try to get away and he backs out, not going toward the officers at all.”
Womble called Cherry-Lassiter’s account “patently false.”
Judge rules not to release bodycam:Bodycam video will not be released for now in Andrew Brown Jr. fatal shooting; family allowed to see more footage, judge rules
“As it backs up, it does make contact with law enforcement officers,” Womble said. The car stops again, according to Womble, and, “the next movement of the car is forward. It is in the direction of law enforcement and makes contact with law enforcement. It is then and only then that you hear shots.”
Cherry-Lassiter stood by comments after the hearing.
Harry Daniels, another attorney for Brown’s family, said the discrepancy shows why the video should be public.
In a statement after Foster’s decision not to release the footage, the family’s attorneys said they were disappointed.
“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 said.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called for a special prosecutor to handle the case and any decision on potential criminal charges, and the FBI’s Charlotte field office said it opened a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death.
Protests defy curfew; media told they are not exempt
Elizabeth City was under an 8 p.m. curfew Wednesday evening as protesters gathered peacefully for an eighth night to demand justice and accountability.
Demonstrators held signs and chanted as they marched and gathered near the public safety building just after 8 p.m.
“Our goal when we come to the streets is disrupt every day to let them know we’re looking for ultimately justice for Andrew Brown and then we’re looking for all the other killings that have taken place across the United States. We are against all killings that have taken place,” said Kirk Rivers, one of the organizers of the protest and brother of Keith Rivers, president of the local NAACP.
Tiffani Beasley, 33, of Elizabeth City, said she knew Brown through her boyfriend.
“He was fun. He loved R&B music. He took care of his kids the best he could. He was just cool,” Beasley said. “He was a really good person.”
The Elizabeth City Police Department said in Facebook posts after 10:30 p.m. demonstrators were given warnings to disperse and arrests were being made.
Police in Elizabeth City outfitted in riot gear and shields also threatened to arrest journalists covering the demonstration.
Police instructed media to leave shortly after 11 p.m. on the second night of the city’s curfew, and, with reporters outnumbering demonstrators, targeted journalists for enforcement.
Thursday’s media ban occurred after USA TODAY reporters and other North Carolina journalists were assured police would respect a media exemption for the curfew, as has been common practice in cities across the country.
Pasquotank County Manager Sparty Hammett told a media attorney Wednesday, “The First Amendment protects the media’s right to do their job. The county won’t try to prevent any media from doing their job.”
A spokesperson for the Elizabeth City Police Department could not be immediately reached Thursday.
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY; The Associated Press