File picture: Reuters
File picture: Reuters

Black man shot by North Carolina deputies was 'executed,' says family

By The Washington Post Time of article published Apr 27, 2021

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ELIZABETH CITY - The family of a Black man fatally shot by sheriff's deputies in this coastal North Carolina city decried a lack of transparency by law enforcement authorities Monday, saying they were shown only a "snippet" of police body-camera footage of the shooting, which has sparked protests.

Authorities have shared few details about the shooting of Andrew Brown, 42, leading to calls to release the full video, which the family and its attorneys say shows that Brown was unarmed and complying when he was killed by Pasquotank County sheriff's deputies Wednesday.

The deputies were conducting a search with an arrest warrant on drug charges at his home. After days of protests, the family was allowed to watch a clip of about 20 seconds from a body-worn camera of one of the deputies at the scene, according to civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who shared what he saw with the family at a news conference outside the sheriff's office Monday.

"Let's be clear, this was an execution," Crump said.

Elizabeth City is about 45 miles south of Norfolk, Va.

Brown's death, which triggered peaceful demonstrations by hundreds of people over several nights, came at a critical moment for policing in America: one day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the killing of George Floyd, and 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant was fatally shot by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio. The high-profile deaths, according to protesters, exemplify police disregard for Black lives.

On Monday evening, amid a state of emergency ordered by city officials, more than 100 people gathered to protest after the Brown family's remarks, chanting "Stop killing us," "Enough is enough" and "Release the tape."

Officials had delayed the viewing of the video for the family because of redactions to "protect an active internal investigation," according to Pasquotank County Attorney Michael Cox.

Family members and their attorneys who were shown the video Monday afternoon said they were distressed by what they saw.

Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, one of the attorneys representing Brown's family, said the clip showed Brown with his hands "firmly" on the steering wheel of his car as deputies blocked his driveway with a police vehicle. Seven or eight deputies swarmed his car with their guns drawn, shooting at him while yelling, "Let me see your hands," Cherry-Lassiter said.

Trying to evade the bullets, Brown backed his car into a tree, "avoiding" deputies, she said.

"There was at no time in the 20 seconds that we saw when he was threatening the officers in any kind of way," she said.

Like Crump, Brown's son, Khalil Ferebee, called the shooting an execution.

"My dad got executed just trying to save his own life. . . . He got executed," Ferebee said. "It ain't right. It ain't right at all."

The attorneys pleaded with journalists gathered outside the sheriff's office to demand the full video's public release.

It is unclear when a judge will make the video public. The Washington Post is part of a coalition of media organizations that have filed a request with the court to have the video released.

Protesters gathered at the news conference, some wearing shirts that said "Black Lives Matter." Others brought chairs and patiently spent the day there, hoping to learn more about Brown's killing.

Levora Todd, a second-grade teacher, said she heard the shots from her classroom at a nearby school, where she was teaching virtually. In the days that followed, she marched with other protesters seeking details about what led to Brown's death. On Monday, after listening to the family and lawyers recount what they saw in the short clip, she said she was furious at how little was publicly known.

"This is injustice for sure," she said. "We got nothing out of it. We waited five days for a 20-second clip."

Anticipating a potential "period of civil unrest" when the video is released, Mayor Bettie Parker declared a state of emergency for Elizabeth City, the county seat, Monday morning.

The Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office has shared little about how deputies killed Brown. Seven deputies at the scene, who have not been named, have since been placed on administrative leave.

In a video statement, Sheriff Tommy Wooten did not say whether Brown was armed, complying or fleeing when authorities tried to serve the warrant.

"What I will say is that if evidence shows that any of my deputies violated the law or policies, they will be held accountable," Wooten said.

Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg said in the same statement Thursday that the issue at stake was whether the deputies had reason to believe that Brown's actions put them at risk "for serious injury or death," adding that Brown was "a convicted felon with a history of resisting arrest."

Court records show that Brown had been convicted of misdemeanor drug possession and had pending drug charges.

Wooten and Fogg did not immediately respond to requests for comments Monday after the family's news conference.

Hours after the family spoke, the two officials released a video statement, announcing that the county attorney filed a motion Monday to release the video. The sheriff said body-worn cameras "only tell part of the story," referencing the brevity of the video the family watched. "The tragic incident was quick and over in less than 30 seconds," Wooten said.

The North Carolina Bureau of Investigation is investigating Brown's death. Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble said the investigation would provide "accurate answers and not fast answers."

On Wednesday morning, the sheriff's office said, deputies arrived at the 400 block of Perry Street to arrest Brown.

Those who watched the encounter told local media that Brown got into his car and started to drive away from law enforcement officers. That's when, neighbors say, the sheriff's deputies started shooting at Brown, firing six to eight shots. The News & Observer newspaper reported that one neighbor said she found 14 shell casings.

Immediately after the shooting, first responders said Brown was shot in the back, according to police dispatcher audio.

Neighbor Demetria Williams told The Associated Press that Brown's car skidded from his yard and hit a tree. She told WITN that the deputies tried to resuscitate Brown after the shooting but that it was too late.

"When they opened the door, he was slumped over already," Williams said, adding that Brown "wasn't a threat."

"I knew he was gone," Williams said.

When authorities removed Brown's vehicle, the car was riddled with bullet holes and had a broken rear windshield, the AP reported.

illegas and Kornfield reported from Washington, and Bella reported from Houston. The Washington Post's Joyce Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON POST

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