On April 21 Elizabeth City, NC became the site of yet another fatal police shooting of an unarmed Black man. During the execution of a search warrant, Andrew Brown, Jr. was shot five times.
According to an eyewitness, Brown, 42, was allegedly driving away when multiple shots rang out, striking Brown and his car before the vehicle hit a tree. Deputies were on the scene to serve a search warrant.
“When they opened the door he was already dead,” said Demetria Williams. “He was slumped over.” Williams lives nearby and says she heard at least one shot, saw deputies standing behind Brown’s car and that she counted at least 14 shell casings near the scene.
Since the time of the incident, Brown’s family has been shown 20 seconds of bodycam footage. The video shows Brown with his hands on the steering wheel before being fatally wounded.
“Yesterday I said he was executed,” said Khalil Ferebee. “This autopsy report shows me that was correct.” Ferebee is the son of Brown.
Brown family attorney, Benjamin Crump says “It was a kill shot to the back of the head.” The family attorneys have also stated that they believe Brown feared for his life and started to drive away after officers started firing.
While Brown was shot a total of five times, countless shots were heard during the edited video shown to the family. After watching the video several times, Attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter said she lost count of the number of gunshots fired. “It was 20-seconds and we lost count in 20-seconds of how many shots.”
Gwen Carr is all too familiar with the scene unfolding in Elizabeth City. On Tuesday, she expressed her dismay for the Brown family. “Put yourself in that position,” said Carr. “What would you do if you saw your child, your mother, your father, whoever being executed.”
In 2014, Carr lost her son, Eric, as a result of officers placing him in a chokehold. His last words, “I can’t breathe” have since become a rallying cry for accountability, justice, and reform.
WHAT WE KNOW:
The Brown Family Attorneys
On April 23, Sheriff Wooten delivered a statement on Facebook Live stating that he would hold his deputies accountable and that video footage would be released on Monday.
After the incident, seven deputies were placed on administrative leave. Three who were not involved directly, resigned.
The State Has Not Released an Autopsy
An independent autopsy was conducted and released on Tuesday showing that Brown was shot four times in the arm and once, fatally, in the back of the head. The cause of death on Brown’s death certificate is listed as a homicide, caused by a “penetrating gunshot wound of the head.”
“A private autopsy is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten. “The independent investigation of the puzzle being performed by the SBI is crucial and the interviews, forensics, and other evidence they gather will help ensure that justice is accomplished.”
Criminal Charges Without Bias
In a statement released on Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said a special prosecutor will be called to handle all matters related to the case.
“In the interest of justice and confidence in the judicial system, I believe a special prosecutor should handle all matters regarding the shooting in Pasquotank County,” reads the statement from Cooper. “This would help assure the community and Mr. Brown’s family that a decision on pursuing criminal charges is conducted without bias.” In the statement, Cooper says his decision is consistent with a law change recommended by the county’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.
In a statement from the Charlotte Division, the FBI announced that it would be launching a federal civil rights investigation.
“Agents will work closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina and the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice to determine whether federal laws were violated.”
Even after demanding and waiting to see body camera footage on Tuesday, the video was not released publicly. Several media companies as well as the Brown family attorneys have petitioned the court to release the video.
“For them to delay this is unacceptable,” says Crump. “The video is going to come out, the truth is going to come out, don’t prolong it because it only builds the mistrust.”
The family was only shown a 20-second clip on Monday.
The Demand for Justice
Despite an 8 p.m. curfew instituted by Mayor Bettie Parker and several arrests, protestors in Pasquotank County have demanded transparency from local law enforcement for seven days.
A Look at the Law
During a press conference on Tuesday, Sellers questioned the interpretation of North Carolina's law prohibiting the release of the video.
“The law doesn’t require a court order to show the family the entire video,” said Sellers. North Carolina law requires a court order to release bodycam footage. A hearing on the release of the bodycam footage is expected to take place on Wednesday, April 28 at 10 a.m.
“The family just wants justice, transparency, and accountability,” said Sellers. “Everyone should be on the same side of justice and accountability.”
UPDATE: Judge Jeffrey Foster has ordered Pasquotank County Sheriff's Department to release full body footage to the family of Andrew Brown within 10 days. The judge also said that the video is not allowed to be made public for 30 to 45 days. Foster said he will further evaluate the decision to release the video after an investigation is complete.
All identifying information about the officers involved in the incident on April 21 will be redacted from the video. The judge further stated that media companies who have requested the release of the video do not have standing to make such a request and that the videos represent material “of a highly sensitive nature.” The Brown family was present for the hearing at Pasquotank County Courthouse.
Monique Wingard is an entrepreneur, educator, and doctoral student in communication, culture, and media studies. Follow her on Instagram @moniquewingard.