Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten on Thursday identified the seven deputies involved in the fatal arrest of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man who was fatally shot last week as deputies attempted to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants at his North Carolina home. In a statement obtained by CBS affiliate WTKR, Wooten said four of those officers did not fire their weapons and have returned to active duty, while the three others who did open fire remain on administrative leave.
Wooten identified the three deputies on leave as Investigator Daniel Meads, Deputy Sheriff Robert Morgan and Corporal Cpl. Aaron Lewellyn. The deputies who have been returned to duty are Lieutenant Steven Judd, Sergeant Michael Swindell, Sergeant Kenneth Bishop and Sergeant Joel Lunsford.
“After reviewing the preliminary conclusions of the independent investigators conducting the internal review, and after carefully examining the body camera footage of the incident with my own staff, it’s obvious that four of the deputies never fired their weapons and deserve to be reinstated to active duty,” Wooten said in a statement. “More investigation is necessary into the three deputies who did fire their weapons, and they will remain on administrative leave pending completion of the internal investigation and/or the criminal investigation being conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation.”
The body camera video Wooten referenced in the statement has not been released publicly, although aallowed the sheriff’s department to share the full footage with Brown’s family, who were previously shown only a redacted clip. Brown’s family and a district attorney have given different accounts of what the video shows.
After seeing the redacted video clip on Monday, the family described the killing as an execution and said Brown had been trying to get away. One of the Brown family lawyers, Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, said the car was stationary when the shooting started.
District Attorney Andrew Womble, who will review law enforcement findings in the case, called the statement “patently false” and gave a different picture of events during a court hearing on Wednesday. He said Brown’s car was “in a stationary position” when deputies approached the car and began shouting commands. Womble said the car was still stationary when a law enforcement officer grabbed the door handle of the car, and was forced to release it when the car went in a reverse position.
The car then stopped and again reversed, and “as it backs up it makes contact” with law enforcement, Womble said. The car was again stationary with deputies positioned around the car when it began moving forward “in the direction of law enforcement and makes contact with law enforcement,” Womble said. That’s when shots were fired, he said.
The killing prompted nights of protests in Elizabeth City and calls for transparency over the police video, which the sheriff’s office has said it’s willing to release with a judge’s approval. But a Pasquotank County judge on Monday granted Womble’s request toat least until Womble announces his decision over whether to charge the officers involved, likely sometime in late May or early June.
Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who represents Brown’s family, released the results of an independent autopsy Tuesday that found Brown was shot five times, including a “kill shot” to the back of the head. In a statement released after the judge’s ruling Wednesday, Crump and other family attorneys said they are “deeply disappointed” in the judge’s ruling and vowed to continue keeping pressure on the agencies involved.
“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,” the statement said. “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.”
In a statement released Wednesday, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating Brown’s death, said the agency defers to the local authorities and the court to determine whether the footage should be released.
“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,” the statement read.
The FBI has also launched a civil rights investigation.