The state autopsy report is just now being released more than a month after a North Carolina district attorney determined the deadly shooting of Andrew Brown Jr., who had both hands on the steering wheel when deputies opened fire on him, was “justified.” The state's autopsy report released to ABC-affiliated WTVD on Thursday confirmed Brown was shot in the back of his head, which is consistent with an independent autopsy report Brown's family commissioned. The state report and independent report are, however, inconsistent with regards to how many times Brown was shot elsewhere. The state report indicated he was shot one other time in his arm, while the family's autopsy report showed Brown was shot four times in his right arm.
Brown, a 42-year-old father of seven, was killed on April 21 outside his home in Elizabeth City after law enforcement officers tried to serve him a drug-related arrest warrant. Beyond the conflicting reports, officials have been slow to release body-camera and dash-camera video of the shooting. They initially opted to only show the family a portion of the footage. But after journalists spearheaded court action, authorities allowed them to view a portion of the footage one time.
The footage lasted 44 seconds from the time officers got out of their vehicles, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble said in a news conference announcing he wouldn't prosecute the deputies. "Mr. Brown's death, while tragic, was justified because Mr. Brown's actions caused three deputies to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others," he said during the news conference. Renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who's part of the Brown family's legal team, tweeted on Thursday that Womble "has had to do the right thing, he’s taken the route of cowardice and deceit." "Shame on him," Crump added in the tweet.
Attorney Chance Lynch, another attorney on Brown family's legal team, said upon viewing slightly longer clips of dash-camera and body-camera footage in May that at all times in footage Brown's hands remained visible. He may've been on the phone, but he was no threat to law enforcement officers, Lynch said during a news conference. When a deputy fired at Brown, he reversed his car "several feet, if not yards away, from the police who were there" and turned his wheel left away from authorities, Lynch said. "At no point did we ever see Mr. Brown make contact with law enforcement," Lynch added. "We were able to see where they possibly reached out to make contact to him, but we did not see any actions on Mr. Brown's part where he made contact with them or tried to go in their direction. In fact, he did just the opposite."
Lynch described Brown driving away from authorities and across a yard to the side of his house as another shot was fired. His car left tracks in the mud as it accelerated, and police officers stood on the pavement "unloading their weapons,” Lynch said. “There were so many shots that we found difficulty in counting the number of shots that his vehicle received,” the attorney said.
Womble said in ruling the shooting justified that when Brown got into his vehicle it constituted a threat. "When you employ a car in a manner that puts officers' lives in danger, that is a threat," Womble said. "And I don't care what direction you're going -- forward, backwards, sideways. I don't care if you're stationary, and neither do our courts and our case law."
Two of three Pasquotank County sheriff's deputy placed on administrative leave following the shooting went back to work earlier this month, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II announced in a news release. Deputy Daniel Meads went returned to work last Tuesday, and Deputy Robert Morgan returned the next day. Deputy Aaron Lewellyn told the sheriff's office he is resigning effective June 30. "He will be using accrued leave until that date," Wooten said in the release.
"The three deputies involved will keep their jobs," Wooten said in a video statement on May 18. "They will be disciplined and retrained. Here's why: While the district attorney concluded that no criminal law was violated, this was a terrible and tragic outcome, and we could do better."
Kristie Puckett-Williams, statewide manager of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina’s Campaign for Smart Justice, said in a statement that it “should not come as a surprise that the criminal legal system has upheld the legitimacy of another police murder of a Black person.”
“Communities deserve justice and accountability, but history shows justice for people of color is rare in a system that was built upon slavery and has been modified over time to control and limit the lives of those who are not white,” Puckett-Williams said. “The decision not to bring charges against those who killed Andrew Brown Jr. is a sign that the system is working as it was designed to. These cases of state-sanctioned murder are not anomalies.
“They are business as usual. Until we have radically changed the many ways the criminal legal system harms and kills Black and Brown people, justice will continue to elude its victims.”
Read the complete statement from Brown’s family attorneys:
"The autopsy results prove what we've always known to be true: Pasquotank County deputies executed Andrew Brown Jr. with a kill shot to the back of the head. The false narrative that DA Womble has attempted to weave is completely discredited by this autopsy report.
While we are not surprised by the findings, we are both astounded and disgusted that the authorities in this case didn't even have the decency to share these results with the family - we were alerted of their release by the media. Every single opportunity DA Womble has had to do the right thing, he's taken the route of cowardice and deceit. Shame on him.
Despite law enforcement's and the district attorney's best efforts to hide the facts in this case, and paint Andrew as a villain, we are confident that the truth will be revealed and justice will prevail. We will continue to demand release of video footage from the day Andrew was killed, and we won't stop fighting for transparency and accountability from law enforcement and the district attorney. From what we've seen thus far from both parties, we have a long way to go."
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