No charges will be filed against North Carolina sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old Black man whose family claims he was “executed” as he sat in his car.
Elizabeth City, North Carolina, District Attorney Andrew Womble said at a news conference Tuesday morning that the three deputies who opened fire on Brown, a father of seven, were justified in their use of deadly force because Brown drove his vehicle toward them and allegedly made contact with one deputy twice before officers fired their weapons.
Womble said he made his decision based on the results of an investigation by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
“Mr. Brown’s death, while tragic, was justified, because Mr. Brown’s actions caused three deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others,” Womble said.
Attorneys for Brown’s family released a statement Tuesday afternoon calling Womble’s decision an “attempt to whitewash this unjustified killing” and requested the U.S. Department of Justice intervene immediately.
The shooting unfolded at about 8:30 a.m. on April 21 when deputies from Pasquotank and Dare Counties went to Brown’s home to attempt to serve two arrest warrants on Brown and a search warrant for Brown’s home in connection with a felony drug investigation, officials said.
Womble said an autopsy by the state Medical Examiner’s Office showed Brown was shot twice, once in the shoulder and once in the back of the head.
Brown’s family and their attorneys commissioned an independent autopsy they say shows he was shot five times, including once in the back of the head.
Seven Pasquotank deputies involved in the episode were initially placed on administrative leave, but four of them were allowed to return to duty after it was determined they did not fire shots at Brown, officials said.
The three deputies who opened fire on Brown were identified by Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten as Investigator Daniel Meads, Deputy Sheriff II Robert Morgan and Cpl. Aaron Lewellyn. Meads and Morgan have each been with the sheriff’s office for more than five years, and Lewellyn has served over two years.
Womble said the officers fired a total of 14 shots from two Glock 17 handguns and an AR-15 223 rifle after Brown allegedly used his car as a deadly weapon. He said Meads fired the first shot through the front windshield of Brown’s car, and that other bullets penetrated the passenger side front door, the rear window and trunk.
The district attorney released four body camera videos of the shooting that showed deputies arriving at Brown’s home in a marked sheriff’s office pickup truck, quickly surrounding Brown’s BMW and ordering him to show his hands. The videos showed Brown’s car go in reverse and then move forward toward deputies in front of the vehicle.
The footage showed Brown’s car continue across a grassy vacant lot as deputies fired at the rear and side of the vehicle. Brown’s car came to a stop when it crashed into a tree.
Womble said deputies immediately removed Brown from the vehicle and began performing first aid while at the same time calling for paramedics.
He said that during the autopsy by the state medical examiner, a plastic baggie the size of a 50-cent piece was found inside Brown’s mouth that contained a substance consistent with crystal methamphetamine.
“The facts of this case clearly illustrate the officers who used deadly force on Andrew Brown Jr. did so reasonably and only when a violent felon used a deadly weapon to place their lives in danger,” Womble said.
On April 26, Brown’s family, including one of his sons, Khalil Ferebee, and one of the family’s attorneys, were shown a 20-second clip from the body camera of one of the deputies involved in executing the search warrant. Ferebee said the footage shows his father, who did not have a weapon on him, being “executed” as he attempted to drive away to save his own life.
Ferebee and his relatives were shown another 18 minutes of body camera video of the shooting last week and said it did not change their opinion that Brown’s death was not justified.
“In describing the legal analysis and the basis for the decision in this case, I find myself, unfortunately, in the position of correcting misinformation that has been shared both on social media and in the news media,” Womble said.
Without naming anyone, Womble said, “People made claims on camera that were knowing falsehoods that were directly refuted by the body-camera video.”
But attorneys’ for Brown’s family questioned Womble’s decision and said it will not stop their fight to achieve justice for Brown.
“To say this shooting was justified, despite the known facts, is both an insult and a slap in the face to Andrew’s family, the Elizabeth City community, and to rational people everywhere,” the statement from the family’s attorneys reads. “Not only was the car moving away from officers, but four of them did not fire their weapons — clearly they did not feel that their lives were endangered. And the bottom line is that Andrew was killed by a shot to the back of the head. Interestingly, none of these issues were appropriately addressed in today’s press conference.”
Wooten released a video statement Tuesday afternoon, saying that while the officers will all keep their jobs, an internal affairs investigation is ongoing. He said some of the officers will be disciplined, including two who did not turn their body cameras on during the incident.
Saying “we can do better,” Wooten announced that all the deputies will receive more tactical training and that he is requesting national experts in the use of force to review his department’s policies and make recommendations on how they can be improved.
Speaking directly to the Brown family, Wooten said, “This should not have happened this way at all.”
“While the deputies did not break the law, we all wish things could have gone differently, much differently,” Wooten said. “I continue to pray for them and hope they will find peace.”
Brown’s shooting prompted days of protests in Elizabeth City calling for the deputies to be criminally charged.
The FBI launched a civil rights probe on April 27 into Brown’s death. It is ongoing. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has also called for a special prosecutor to handle the case “in the interest of justice and confidence in the judicial system.”
The shooting came a day after a jury in Minneapolis convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man.