A North Carolina judge ruled Wednesday that video from four body cameras associated with last week’s shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. will not be released publicly at this time.
Judge Jeff Foster also granted, in part, a petition from the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office allowing Brown’s family and one of their legal representatives to view the videos — but they will not be allowed to receive copies or make recordings.
Those rulings came after the district attorney for the region said during the hearing that Brown’s moving vehicle made contact with law enforcement officers twice during the encounter in which deputies shot him dead in Elizabeth City on April 21.
Sheriff’s deputies fatally shot Brown, 42, while trying to execute a warrant, authorities have said.
At Wednesday’s hearing on whether the body camera footage would be released, Andrew Womble, the district attorney for Pasquotank and nearby counties, described what he said was video captured by multiple cameras.
In the video, Brown is in a stationary car when deputies approach, shouting commands, Womble said.
As deputies attempt to open one of the car’s doors, the car backs up, making contact with an officer, Womble said. The car then stops, before moving forward and again makes contact with law enforcement, Womble said.
After the car moves forward, shots are heard, Womble said.
Womble criticized comments that one of the attorneys for Brown’s family, Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, previously made about video of the incident.
Authorities on Monday showed the family what the relatives said was 20 seconds of video. Afterward, Cherry-Lassiter said the video showed an “execution,” and showed deputies shooting at Brown as he sat in his vehicle with his hands on the steering wheel.
Cherry-Lassiter’s comments were false and “designed to prejudice a proceeding,” Womble said at Wednesday’s hearing.
Cherry-Lassiter told reporters that deputies ran up to Brown’s car, shooting as he put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway. 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.”
Attorney Harry Daniels told CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” that the district attorney was doing something he told others not to — taint the investigation.
“That’s exactly what he did by not putting in context to make it appear that Mr. Brown was possibly doing something unlawful and these officers was justified,” he said.
CNN has not seen the video and has not been able to independently verify the family attorneys’ or the district attorney’s accounts.
The court ruling on the videos
The shooting prompted protests in Elizabeth City, demonstrations that continued Wednesday with marchers calling for the public release of the video. The sheriff’s office has not said what led the deputies to fire and the sheriff has said that will be revealed in the investigation.
North Carolina law says body camera video is not a public record and cannot be released without a court order.
A media coalition including CNN petitioned for the footage to be publicly released.
Judge Foster denied the media coalition’s petition Wednesday, ruling that the media was not a party contemplated for release under the relevant North Carolina statute.
He also ruled that, even if the media was able to petition for release, the factors in the statute did not weigh in favor of release.
The sheriff’s office also had asked the court to release the video.
The judge went on partly grant the sheriff’s petition, allowing the disclosure of the body camera footage to the family of Brown and one their legal representatives.
The disclosure means the family and an attorney can view the videos but will not be given their own copies or allowed to make recordings.
The judge also ruled that the deputies’ identifying information, such as their faces and badge numbers, must be blurred before being shown to the family.
Foster indicated that he may rule to release the video to the family at a later time, meaning they would have full access to the video.
Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten told reporters he had hoped for a different ruling and respected the judge’s decision.
“It’s not exactly what I wanted,” Wooten told reporters on his way out of the courthouse after the ruling. “We’re going to continue to do everything we can do to be transparent to this community. … We do have some disclosures that we’re going to try to do here as soon as we can get everything ready.”
Attorneys for Brown’s family said they were deeply disappointed in the judge’s ruling.
“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 team said.
Family attorney: This was … ‘an extrajudicial killing’
On Tuesday, one of the attorneys representing Brown’s family expressed outrage at newly obtained surveillance video showing deputies arriving on the scene April 21.
CNN obtained the video. It is not clear what is being said in the video or when the shooting started.
“This was, in fact, an extrajudicial killing, an execution if you will,” Brown family attorney Wayne Kendall told CNN’s John Berman. “Mr. Brown’s car never moved toward those deputies.”
The family’s attorneys provided more information Tuesday with the release of an independent autopsy.
Brown 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.
City declares state of emergency over protests
Protests have been peaceful since the death of Brown last week.
Concerned about potential unrest, Elizabeth City declared a state of emergency Monday and instituted a curfew that started at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
“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 Tuesday, protesters responded to the PA announcement by shouting, “No justice, no peace!”
Despite the announcements, dozens of protesters remained after curfew began.
There was also a war of words between the family attorneys and local law enforcement officials.
“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.
What we know about the shooting
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 warrant obtained by CNN was marked as “not executed.” In the first news conference about the shooting, 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.
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.
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.