The body-camera footage of police fatally shooting Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man in Elizabeth City, N.C., will not be released to the public but will be disclosed to Brown’s family, a judge ruled Wednesday, following days of outcry and protests over an encounter with unanswered questions.
The decision came after the Pasquotank County district attorney opposed the public release of the video, saying the shooting was justified because he said Brown hit officers with his car before they fired at him.
Foster ruled the video from four body cameras would be disclosed to Brown’s son, Khalil Ferebee, and the rest of his immediate family and one attorney within 10 days. The video, Foster said, would “blur or redact all facial features and nametags” of the officers.
The judge concluded that the full video would be released to the family, but not for 30 to 45 days, which, he said, is when the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is expected to complete its probe of the shooting.
The ruling comes as the backlash and protests over the shooting, and the lack of details released by authorities, have heightened tensions in the week after Brown’s death. The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office has said deputies were executing search and arrest warrants for Brown on felony drug charges at his home, but have not offered any other statements about whether Brown was armed, complying or fleeing the scene.
Authorities were criticized after Brown’s family watched a 20-second video clip from a deputy’s body-worn camera that family members who saw the footage described as an “execution.” Brown’s family has pushed for all body-worn cameras of the seven deputies at the scene to be shared publicly.
On Wednesday, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble claimed the body-camera footage allegedly shows shots were not fired at Brown until his car struck the officers. The district attorney’s contention conflicts with that of Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, one of the attorneys representing Brown’s family, who said the 42-year-old was not “threatening the officers in any kind of way” from the body-cam footage they were allowed to see this week.
In his opposition of the public release of the video, Womble urged that the footage only be made public if it was submitted as evidence in a criminal trial or in a news conference where the district attorney could present his findings. While arguing the video could affect a fair trial if there was to be one and possibly jeopardize the safety of the deputies, Womble said, “You cannot swing a skunk in front of a group of people and ask them not to smell it.”
H.P. Williams, an attorney speaking on behalf of lawyers representing several deputies linked to the shooting, said he would not oppose the disclosure of the footage to Brown’s family “if the faces of the officers are redacted.” Williams said that while the officers are “very distraught over what happened,” the attorney objected to the release of the video to the public, adding “there is no compelling public interest” in releasing the footage.
“There’s a difference between the public wanting to see the body cams and the public needing to see the body cams,” Williams said. “We don’t see a need for the public to see it at this point.”
In arguing for the release of the video, Mike Tadych, an attorney with the coalition of newsrooms that filed the motion, pointed to the role that footage played in the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis as one reason the body-cam video needed to be released. Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was convicted earlier this month.
“The eyes of the world are upon us,” Tadych said.
After the judge’s decision, Tadych and attorney C. Amanda Martin told The Post in an email that the media coalition’s legal team believed Foster’s ruling to be “legally incorrect.”
“We will review the judge’s written order when we receive it and decide at that point how best to appeal it immediately,” they said.
Attorney Ben Crump said the Brown family was “deeply disappointed” in the judge’s decision to not make the body-cam footage public.
“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,” Crump said in a news release. “We refuse to be discouraged and vow to keep the pressure on these agencies until we get to the truth.”
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten, who had reportedly petitioned the court to release the video, said in a statement that he was also “disappointed” that the footage would not be released to the public. Wooten has faced scrutiny in recent days for not offering any additional details of the shooting. The sheriff, who said to the WAVY news station that he did not plan to resign, claimed he would have released the video days ago if state law didn’t prohibit him from making the body-cam footage public without a court order.
“Although we’re unable to show the public what happened right now, the independent investigators are working to complete their investigation,” the sheriff said in a statement. “As soon as all of the important facts are given to me, I will act quickly to ensure accountability and I’ll be as transparent as I possibly can with the public.”
The ruling unfolded after attorneys for Brown’s family on Tuesday presented findings from an independent autopsy that detailed how Brown was reportedly shot five times, including once in the back of his head as he was driving away from police.
Ferebee, Brown’s son, said the findings in the independent autopsy reaffirmed his belief that his father was “executed.”
“This autopsy report shows me that’s correct,” he said Tuesday.
The family’s attorneys have also referred to a video obtained by WAVY from a city-owned camera that captured the moment before gunfire erupted. Deputies can be seen driving up to Brown’s driveway in a truck, jumping out and shouting, “Hands up.” Brown does not appear in the video, which has a glitch when the shooting begins.
Out of concern that the body-cam video’s release could spark unrest, city officials enacted an 8 p.m. curfew that went into effect Tuesday night following nearly a week of peaceful protests. At least six people were arrested at a demonstration after curfew, according to local reporters who witnessed the standoff between police in riot gear and protesters. The city’s police department did not respond to questions from The Post about how many people were arrested.
Since North Carolina state law requires a court order for authorities to release body-cam footage, Carolina Public Press helped coordinate with roughly 20 news organizations, including The Post, to request the video from the superior court judge.
In a news release Wednesday, the State Bureau of Investigation director, Robert Schurmeier, said the investigation into Brown’s death remains ongoing. Schurmeier said while SBI deferred to local authorities and the court to decide on whether to release the video, the bureau “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 FBI has said it opened a federal civil rights inquiry, while North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) indicated he has recommended that a special prosecutor handle the investigation, although state law doesn’t require that step.
Members of the Brown family on Wednesday morning accompanied the victim’s grandmother, Lydia Brown, into the courtroom. Foster addressed the family at the beginning of the hearing, saying, “I can’t imagine the pain you must be going through.”
The Rev. Javan Leach, the pastor of the Brown family’s church, told CNN that he wondered whether police taking so long to release any additional information would affect how the public responded to this latest instance of a Black man being fatally shot by authorities.
“I’m praying that full transparency will be the word of the day,” Leach said.