North Carolina officials on Thursday faced growing pressure to release body camera footage of the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man who was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy on Wednesday morning in Elizabeth City.
Brown was unarmed when he was fatally shot, said Harry Daniels, the Brown family’s attorney. Witness accounts paint a picture of an “unlawful, unjustified killing” in which multiple law enforcement officers shot as Brown fled the scene in a vehicle, Daniels said at a Thursday press conference.
“To my understanding, there is body camera footage to this incident, and it has not been released. A lot of speculation is going on — we’re asking for answers, accountability and transparency,” Daniels said. “This is something we are demanding immediate release.”
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation on Thursday said it continues its investigation into the incident, but only the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office or the District Attorney’s Office can release the bodycam footage. Neither office immediately responded to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
For many, the sense of relief brought by the guilty verdict for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday in the murder of George Floyd was short-lived. Reports of more police killings emerged just hours later, including that of Brown and 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant who was fatally shot Tuesday night by police officers in Columbus, Ohio.
Crowds of people — dozens at the scene of the shooting and later hundreds protesting in the streets of Elizabeth City — called for police to release more details immediately. Elizabeth City is located about 170 miles northeast of Raleigh.
“The people of Elizabeth City … they desire a right to know what took place this morning,” City Councilman Darius J. Horton said Wednesday. “There is a moment of hurt in Elizabeth City.”
The deputy, who has not been identified, was serving a search warrant at Brown’s rental home Wednesday when Brown was fatally shot around 8:30 a.m. According to a witness, Brown was trying to drive away.
Demetria Williams, Brown’s neighbor, told the Associated Press she ran outside after hearing a gunshot and then saw the deputy firing multiple times at Brown. She also said the car skidded from Brown’s yard and hit a tree.
“When they opened the door he was already dead,” Williams said. “He was slumped over.” She said officers attempted chest compressions on Brown.
Authorities removed a car from the scene that appeared to have multiple bullet holes and a broken rear windshield, the Associated Press reported.
What are protesters asking for?
As an emergency city council meeting was underway Wednesday, protesters began to gather outside, watching the livestream of the meeting on their phones, according to WAVY-TV.
The protests continued into the night, with about 200 people marching downtown asking for police to release body camera footage, the TV station reported.
Protests wrapped up before 10 p.m., but protesters vowed to be back at the sheriff’s office Thursday at 5 p.m. if body camera footage isn’t released.
In a press conference Thursday, Pasquotank NAACP President Keith Rivers said by not releasing the footage, the sheriff’s department “failed to create … transparency.”
“Many times it is not the act but it’s what we do after the act that determines who and what we are,” Rivers said. “The release of the body camera footage as soon as possible is a must to build the transparency that is needed in our community.”
Councilman Quentin Jackson, who told WRAL he knew Brown, called for the sheriff to “give the people answers.”
“None other leaders have been out here from the county to stand out here with the people,” Jackson said. “And the sheriff should come out here.”
The city’s public schools said it was implementing remote learning Thursday “due to community concern and out of an abundance of caution,” though it did not explicitly cite protests,
What do we know about the deputy?
Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said at a news conference Wednesday the deputy was wearing a body camera and has been placed on leave.
Wooten did not identify the deputy. He also did not say how many shots were fired or what the warrant against Brown was for.
“What we are looking for at this time will be accurate answers and not fast answers,” District Attorney Andrew Womble Womble told a news conference. “We’re going to wait for the full and complete investigation … and we’ll review that and make any determinations that we deem appropriate at that time. This will not be a rush to judgment.”
Who was Andrew Brown Jr.?
Williams said neighbors knew Brown, 42, as Drew and that he wasn’t a violent person.
“He wasn’t a threat to (officers). He was driving off even though he was trying to get away,” Williams said.
Brown’s aunt, Martha McCullen, who said she raised him after his parents died, described him as a good person and father.
“The police didn’t have to shoot my baby,” she told the Associated Press. “He was about to get his kids back…Now his kids won’t never see him again.”
Brown had 7 children, according to Daniels, and took care of others who were not his biologically.
Court records show Brown had a history of drug charges and a misdemeanor drug possession conviction.
Contributing: The Associated Press