May 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Prosecutor: Fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. was "justified"

The family of Andrew Brown Jr.

Khalil Ferebee (C), the son of Andrew Brown Jr., and attorneys Bakari Sellers (L) and Harry Daniel (R) at a May 11 news conference in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

A North Carolina prosecutor said Tuesday that the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man fatally shot by sheriff's deputies last month, was "tragic" but "justified," due to the immediate threat officers believed Brown posed.

Why it matters: The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into Brown's death. Police in Elizabeth City shot him five times, including in the back of his head, according to an independent autopsy report released by family attorneys last month.

Driving the news: District Attorney Andrew Womble shared four body camera videos at Tuesday's press conference. He said Brown ignored commands and put his car in drive, turning it "directly at law enforcement officers" who had surrounded the vehicle after attempting to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants.

  • Womble said officers fired the first shot, which entered the front windshield, after Brown drove directly at Sgt. Joel Lunsford.
  • "In this case the deputies used the amount of force deemed reasonably appropriate by them to neutralize a perceived threat," Womble said.

Womble was repeatedly pressed about his conclusions during a Q&A session with reporters.

  • "The speed at which the car was moving ... was not relevant in my determination," Womble said, when asked by a reporter how the vehicle's acceleration or deceleration affected his decision. "You're not allowed to drive over police officers."
  • "If the first shot is justified, the last shot is justified until the threat is extinguished," he said.
  • Womble said Brown's car was deemed a threat regardless of which way he was driving, after reporters pressed him on whether Brown was attempting to drive away from officers instead of towards them.

Lawyers for Brown's family said in a statement later Tuesday, “Andrew Brown Jr., his grieving family, and this community deserve answers. And they received anything but from D.A. Womble’s attempt to whitewash this unjustified killing."

  • "To say this shooting was justified, despite the known facts, is both an insult and a slap in the face to Andrew’s family, the Elizabeth City community, and to rational people everywhere," they added.
  • “We demand that the court release the full video and State Bureau of Investigation report that will help shed some much needed daylight on this case and bring a small measure of justice to this family and this community. Because we certainly got neither transparency nor justice today."
  • "We request that the Federal Department of Justice intervene immediately.”

Where it stands: Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said Tuesday that the deputies involved will keep their jobs but will be "disciplined and retrained," per AP.

  • Brown's death prompted protests in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and elsewhere over several weeks, with many calling for the release of body camera footage.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the statement from the lawyers for Brown's family and additional information on the deputies.

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