Police told people protesting last week’s police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. to head home ahead of an 8 p.m. curfew imposed by Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
It was the seventh night of demonstrations since Brown was fatally shot by deputies who came to his home to serve arrest and search warrants.
The protests come as the FBI announced a federal civil rights investigation, and on the day attorneys for the Brown family released information from an independent autopsy they said shows Brown was shot in the back of the head as he tried to drive away from deputies shooting at him.
Concerned about potential unrest, Elizabeth City declared a state of emergency Monday and instituted a curfew starting Tuesday night at 8 p.m.
“We’re usually a kind of quiet town and we’re just sometimes playing stuff by ear because we’ve just never had something like this before,” Mayor Bettie Parker said of the curfew. “We’ve got to do some healing here because people are hurt.”
As police told the crowd to disperse, protesters responded to the PA announcement by shouting, “No justice, no peace!”
Despite the announcements, dozens of protesters remained after curfew began.
FBI is investigating the shooting
The FBI’s Charlotte field office said it is looking into last Wednesday’s shooting.
“Agents will work closely with the US 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. As this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot comment further,” the FBI statement says.
Attorneys for the Brown family welcomed the development.
“We have great faith that this caliber of an investigation will prevent any obscuring of the facts released to the Brown family and public, and will overcome any local bias that may prevent justice from being served,” attorneys Ben Crump, Bakari Sellers, Harry Daniels and Chantel Cherry-Lassiter said in a statement.
They also referred to video obtained by CNN on Tuesday that shows a Sheriff’s Office pickup packed with deputies arriving at the scene of the shooting. They said it shows Brown was “brought down by an inflamed modern-day lynch mob.”
“We believe that once the long-awaited body camera footage is released, we will be able to fill in the gaps to this story and hold the officers responsible for Andrew Brown’s death accountable,” the attorneys said in their statement.
Another family attorney, Wayne Kendall, told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” the new video shows there was no more than four seconds between the deputies’ arrival and when they started shooting.
“This was in fact — an extrajudicial killing — an execution if you will,” he said. “Mr. Brown’s car never moved toward those deputies.”
It is not clear from the video what is being said or when the shooting started.
The attorneys earlier released a private autopsy that found Brown was fatally shot in the back of the head.
Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, had been shot four times in the right arm and was trying to drive away from Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies when he was hit in the head, Kendall said, citing an autopsy performed by Dr. Brent Hall.
“He was trying to run because he was scared for his life,” Kendall said.
The Pasquotank County sheriff has said deputies fatally shot Brown as they attempted to execute a warrant but have not said what led officers to open fire. Attorney Daniels said Brown was unarmed.
The shot to the head caused Brown to lose control of his vehicle and crash into a tree, Kendall said. A copy of his death certificate says he died within minutes due to the wound.
The FBI investigation and the autopsy raise further questions about last Wednesday’s shooting, which has spurred protests over the authorities’ lack of transparency.
The fatal shooting, just a day after a former Minneapolis Police officer was convicted of murdering George Floyd, highlights the pervasiveness of police violence in America and the increasing importance of body cameras for transparency and accountability.
County responds to ‘execution’ accusation
The Sheriff’s Office has given the public little information about the shooting and has said it is legally prevented from publicly releasing body camera footage without a court order.
Cherry-Lassiter, a family attorney who viewed 20 seconds of the shooting from one deputy’s body camera on Monday, said it showed an “execution.” Brown’s son Khalil Ferebee agreed.
“Yesterday, I said I thought he was executed,” Ferebee said Tuesday. “It’s obvious he was trying to get away. It’s obvious. And they gonna shoot him in the back of the head? Man, that sh** not right. That’s not right at all, man.”
On Tuesday, the county addressed the use of the word “execution.”
“This is unproven hyperbole that only inflames the community and — should this matter ever go to court — could bias potential jurors and perhaps interfere with a fair trial for anyone involved,” officials said on a “Check the Facts” page on the county website.
The statement said the one video the family saw showed the whole incident.
“The entire encounter of engaging Mr. Brown and the use of deadly force lasted less than 20 seconds. The family viewed the entire encounter. The family was able to watch the video 10-20 times,” the officials said.
The deputies’ faces were blurred because of an ongoing investigation, according to the statement. There was more video, and that would also require blurring, the statement said.
“While there is additional body camera footage showing the deputies on scene attempting to provide first aid and perform CPR on Mr. Brown, the time needed to blur faces of the additional video would’ve delayed us from showing the family the video on Monday as they requested.”
Parker, the Elizabeth City mayor, said she also thinks it is taking too long to release the body camera footage.
“It appears that you ought to be able to get it in a 24 to 48-hour time period. That’s what I’m thinking … it should be released in a very reasonable amount of time,” Parker said. “And this amount of time is not reasonable.”
What we know about the shooting
In dispatch audio from April 21, first responders can be heard saying a man had gunshot wounds to the back.
According to Cherry-Lassiter, Brown was seen in his driveway, blocked in by the sheriff’s department, sitting with his hands on the steering wheel.
“He wasn’t reaching for anything, he wasn’t touching anything, he wasn’t throwing anything around,” she said.
Deputies ran up to his car, shooting as Brown put the vehicle in reverse and backed out of the driveway, Cherry-Lassiter said. Deputies continued to shoot at him as he drove off, she said.
“What the 20 seconds shows is that Andrew Brown is not a threat to officers,” she told CNN on Tuesday. “As he was being shot at, Andrew was trying to back away from the officers and save his life, save his own life.”
CNN has not seen the video and has not been able to independently verify the family attorneys’ account of the video. Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg said it would be inappropriate to comment on the case until all the evidence is collected.
The delay in releasing the video publicly stems from a 2016 North Carolina law that exempted police body and dash camera footage from state open records laws. A court order is required for video or audio to be released to the public.
The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office said the county attorney filed a motion Monday with the court to release the body camera video publicly, and a media coalition that includes CNN has also filed a petition for the release of the video.
Gov. Roy Cooper signaled Tuesday that he supports changing the law, according to a statement sent to CNN.
“The Governor believes that instead of requiring a court order to release body camera video, it should be presumed to be public record and released unless a Judge finds a compelling reason that it shouldn’t be,” press secretary Dory MacMillan said. “Body cameras are an important tool to help ensure accountability and public trust and the Governor has called for changing this law since it passed in 2016.”
The governor said he thinks 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.
What authorities have released
Seven deputies have been placed on administrative leave following the shooting, two others have resigned and one deputy retired, Wooten said. Not all the deputies who were placed on administrative leave discharged their firearms, he added, but they were all part of the warrant operation.
Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies were authorized to look for crack cocaine, other controlled substances and “evidence of criminal activity” in Brown’s two vehicles and his residence, according to a search warrant signed by a judge on April 20.
The copy of the search warrant obtained by CNN was marked as “not executed.” In the first news conference about Brown’s death, Wooten said Brown was killed as deputies were attempting to execute the search warrant, but he later stated Brown was killed as deputies served an arrest warrant.
CNN has not been able to obtain the arrest warrant.
According to the search warrant, PCSO Investigator D. Ryan Meads received information from the Dare County Narcotics Task Force in March of 2021 “regarding the illegal sales of controlled narcotics by Andrew Brown residing on Perry St. in Elizabeth City.”
The task force had been in touch with an informant who claimed to have been buying drugs from Brown for over a year, including at his home or at motels/hotels, according to the warrant.
However, Brown’s aunt Betty Banks said the family was told that authorities did not find any drugs or weapons in Brown’s car or in his house.