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June 16, 2021

Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting in Elizabeth City

By BEN FINLEY

Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Family members of a Black man who was fatally shot in his car by sheriff’s deputies in Elizabeth City will get to view more body camera footage of the incident on Tuesday. But they will only be shown a fraction of the recorded footage, under a judge’s written ruling.

Attorneys for Andrew Brown Jr.’s family had expected to see the video as soon as this week after Judge Jeffery Foster ruled from the bench on April 27 that the family would be shown the videos “within 10 days.” But it took the Superior Court judge until Thursday to issue the written ruling, which says the 10-day time period starts with the date of the order.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said in a statement Friday that his office has already agreed with the Brown family’s suggestion to show the video on Tuesday. Wooten said a specific time and location will be arranged with the family’s attorney.

Foster’s ruling on Thursday limits what the family can see of the encounter, which occurred while deputies were serving a drug-related search warrant at Brown’s home. The family will be able to view less than 20 minutes of the nearly two hours of video that was recorded.

“The portions of the videos withheld are found to not contain images of the deceased, and thus are not appropriate for disclosure at this time,” Foster wrote.

Foster’s order also contained a brief description of the footage. The judge wrote that Brown “attempted to flee the scene and escape apprehension” and that “at least one and as many as three officers fired their weapons into the vehicle operated by Brown.”

Brown’s shooting on April 21 has drawn national attention to the small, majority Black city in the state’s rural northeastern corner. And many city residents — as well as nationally prominent civil rights leaders and attorneys — are demanding full release of the footage over concerns that the shooting was unjustified and that Brown was “executed.”

A prosecutor has said that Brown’s car ran into the deputies before they opened fire.

The fallout has so far included peaceful protests calling for police reform and full release of the video. But there are also concerns about the safety of the deputies involved.

At least one of the deputies and another county official reported unknown vehicles or people outside their homes, the sheriff’s office said in a statement on Friday. Some websites have posted details about the deputies that makes their home addresses known.

Early on, the sheriff had advised the deputies “to take precautions or consider staying somewhere else for their safety.”

Foster, the Superior Court judge, had raised safety concerns during the April 27 hearing regarding release of the video. He said he would not publicly release the footage because it could jeopardize the ongoing investigation into Brown’s death or threaten the safety of people seen in the footage.

Foster said the video must remain out of public view for at least 30 days, but he would consider releasing it after that point if investigations are complete.

Family members have so far only been allowed to view a 20-second clip from a single body camera.

Family attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter told reporters last week that shots were heard from the instant the clip started with Brown’s car in his driveway and his hands on the steering wheel.

She said he did not try to back away until after deputies ran up to his car and began shooting, and he did not pose a threat to deputies. “He finally decides to try to get away and he backs out, not toward officers at all,” Cherry-Lassiter said.

Brown was shot five times, including in the back of the head, according to an independent autopsy commissioned by his family.

District Attorney Andrew Womble, who viewed the body camera videos, told Judge Foster at the hearing that Brown’s car made “contact” with law enforcement twice before shots could be heard on the video.

“As it backs up, it does make contact with law enforcement officers,” he 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.”

Womble said that officers shouted commands and tried to open a car door before any shots were fired.

None of the deputies were injured, according to previous statements by Sheriff Wooten.

 

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