A district attorney in North Carolina said in court on Wednesday that Andrew Brown Jr.’s car “made contact” with sheriff’s deputies twice before law enforcement opened fire, calling comments made earlier this week by one of the attorneys representing Brown’s family about what was captured on 20 seconds of body camera footage “patently false.”
The claim came during a hearing at the Pasquotank County Courthouse, where Superior Court Judge Jeffery Foster ruled all bodycam footage of the April 21 fatal deputy-involved shooting of Brown will be delayed for public release for at least 30 days.
District Attorney Andrew Womble told the judge that video showed Brown’s car made contact with deputies twice as he backed out of the driveway of his home in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, that day, before law enforcement began firing.
“As it backs up, it does make contact with law enforcement officers,” Womble said, adding that the car stops again. “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.”
Statements made by attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter at a press conference earlier this week describing the “movements” of Brown’s car in the video are “patently false,” Womble added.
Deputies had arrived to serve drug-related arrest and warrants. Womble asked the judge, who viewed the footage himself, to publicly admonish Brown’s family attorneys for failing to give a fair and accurate depiction of the video.
Cherry-Lassiter, an attorney representing the Brown family, was part of a group privately shown 20 seconds of body camera video on Monday inside the Pasquotank County Public Safety building.
At a press conference afterward, Cherry-Lassiter, who said she took three pages of notes as she watched the video several times, argued it depicted “an execution,” as Brown had his hands on the steering wheel and was not threatening deputies as he was fired upon.
“Let’s be clear. This was an execution. Andrew Brown was in his driveway. The sheriff truck blocked him in his driveway so he could not exit his driveway,” she said at the press conference Monday. “Andrew had his hands on his steering wheel – he was not reaching for anything, he was not touching anything, he wasn’t throwing anything around. He has his hands firmly on the steering wheel.”
She claimed deputies has already begun firing as Brown backed out of the driveway and avoided striking the law enforcement officer. Brown then drove away from deputies, who did not stop firing even when his vehicle crashed into a tree, Cherry-Lassiter said.
“We watched this over and over and over to make sure we were sure about what was going on and what was transparent,” the attorney continued, using her notes at times to recall what the video showed. “He finally tries to try to get away and he backs out – not going toward the officers at all. At no time in the 20 seconds that we saw was he threatening the officers in any kind of way.”
An independent autopsy released by Brown’s family attorneys Tuesday showed that the 42-year-old Black man was shot five times — four times in the right arm, and a fifth fatal gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Though he delayed the release of the footage at this time, Foster approved disclosure of the videos to Brown’s adult son, Khalil Ferebee, other immediate family members and one licensed attorney in North Carolina within 10 days. The faces of the officers will be blurred before the disclosure, the judge said. The disclosure will include five files, but four videos in total from body cameras and a dash cam.
Releasing the videos at this time would jeopardize the reputation or safety of a person, pose a serious threat to the administration of justice and infringe on the confidentiality necessary to protect a possible criminal investigation, Foster said. The judge also denied a petition made be a media coalition for the videos’ release despite the compelling public interest.
The body camera footage will be held for release between at least 30 days and no more than 45 days to allow North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to move forward with their probe into the shooting, Foster said. The SBI will be ordered to present its findings to the court, when Foster will make another determination about the videos’ release. The judge said he spent hours Tuesday reviewing all footage obtained by SBI of the shooting and therefore knew the contents before considering petitions from several parties Wednesday.
Petitions to release the body camera footage came from a media coalition and Pasquotank County Attorney R. Michael Cox, who filed on behalf of Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II. Seven deputies have been placed on administrative leave since the shooting.
“I wanted the body camera footage to be released to the public as soon as possible, and I’m disappointed it won’t happen immediately,” Wooten said in statement after the hearing. “Obviously, I’ll 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.”
The FBI Charlotte Field Office announced Tuesday that it opened a federal civil rights investigation.
“We are deeply disappointed by the judge’s decision to not make body camera footage from the involved officers available to be viewed by the public,” a statement released Wednesday by civil rights attorney Ben Crump and co-counsels Cherry-Lassiter, Bakari Sellers and Harry Daniels said. “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.”
“Just look at the murder of George Floyd – if the world had not seen that clear and disturbing footage, there might not have even been an ounce of accountability for those officers. We refuse to be discouraged and vow to keep the pressure on these agencies until we get to the truth. We will not stop saying his name. Andrew Brown Jr.”
In a statement provided to Fox News before the hearing, SBI Director Robert L. Schurmeier had said state investigators “would defer to the local authorities and the courts to make that determination as guided by State law” regarding all relevant video.
“The SBI supports transparency to the greatest extent possible, as we think this serves the interests of the family, the local community, and North Carolina as a whole,” Schurmeier added.