Six months after Andrew Brown Jr.’s murder, the community continues to push for change

Alana Jones has spent part of the past six months reflecting on what happened on the morning of April 21, when Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Deputies shot dead Andrew Brown Jr. while conducting searches and Elizabeth City drug-related arrest warrants.

Jones, a preschool teacher at the time, says the marches, which passed through the port community of about 18,000, were her first manifestations.

“I was there for my children – [and] students – I was there for my stepson, I was there for everyone. And more importantly, I was there for Andrew Brown and I made sure he got the justice he deserved, ”said Jones, 22, who joined the marches with her husband and then her stepson. three years.

The murder sparked national attention and questions about law enforcement arrest tactics. But in the months that followed, large daily protests in support of Brown and national media attention waned.

Brown’s family and others are still awaiting major developments in the case – including the results of an ongoing FBI investigation, a family lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages, and a media petition for the public broadcasting of body camera images.

Right now, the case has highlighted North Carolina’s law regarding access to body camera footage, the power judges have over that access, as well as the role of district attorneys in determining whether the legality of the police arrest strategy.

Determination of a prosecutor

A month after Brown’s death, District Attorney Andrew Womble announced that he had reviewed the investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation and determined that Brown’s murder was justified. His office will not pursue criminal charges against the police officers involved, he said.

Womble released body camera footage to reporters and said Brown used his car “as a deadly weapon” in his interaction with law enforcement, both backing up and trying to get away. . Some journalists interrogates Womble’s description of the pictures and Brown’s car being called a “lethal weapon.”

At the time, lawyers for the family said in a statement that “not only was the car driving away from the officers, four of them hadn’t fired their guns – they clearly didn’t think their lives was in danger “.

But Womble was not discouraged in his opinion that the lives of the deputies were in danger.

“I don’t care which direction you go: forward, backward, to the side. I don’t care if you stand still, and neither do our courts and our case law, ”Womble said at the time.

Brown family attorneys Chantal Cherry-Lassiter and Benjamin Crump have not responded to recent requests for interviews from WUNC.

Khalil Ferebee, one of Brown’s children, said the video segment he watched earlier in April showed his father “was executed simply while trying to save his own life.”

As the SBI turned over its investigation files to Womble, the agency said in a declaration that it “supports transparency to the fullest extent permitted by law, because we believe it serves the interests of the citizens of North Carolina.”

A month later, in June, the official autopsy report determined Brown had died from a “penetrating gunshot wound to the head,” again confirming the main finding of an independent autopsy ordered by the family.

Kate medley

A memorial set around Andrew Brown Jr.’s home in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, pictured on May 2, 2021.

The cost of a living

Brown’s family in July filed a $ 30 million civil rights complaint claiming that Brown died because of the officers’ “intentional and reckless disregard for his life”.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in eastern North Carolina, is the latest in a series of federal civil rights lawsuits following high-profile police shootings against blacks and browns in the country . Many have resulted in settlements that often include money but state that there has been no admission of guilt. Some end up in court where a jury can award massive settlements that are reduced on appeal.

The family of George Floyd, killed in custody in Minneapolis last year, agreed to a $ 27 million settlement in March. In September 2020, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, agreed to pay Breonna Taylor’s family $ 12 million and reform police practices.

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Payton Sickles

Protesters and members of the Brown family gather near a mural in his honor, in the days following his death.

Changes at the sheriff’s office

In the days following Brown’s death, the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had recruited an outside group to assess the actions of its deputies. Deputy Chief Daniel Fogg said the office has asked the North Carolina Sheriffs Association to help find outside representatives from the sheriff’s office to investigate everyone involved in the incident.

A die deputies who fired his gun to Brown’s car resigned in June. A representative from the local FBI office in Charlotte confirmed to WUNC that the civil rights agency’s investigation into Brown’s death is still ongoing.

Also in June, a group of local NAACP leaders visited Washington DC to demand that the federal Department of Justice launch its own investigation into Brown’s death. Concretely, the group wants the DOJ to carry out a model-or-practice review investigation, a type of investigation that examines “excessive force, biased police and other unconstitutional law enforcement practices,” according to the Justice Department.

The shooting has drawn the attention of outside law enforcement observers who say police officers should not shoot a vehicle when there is no deadly threat other than the car.

Sheriff Wooten said MPs who fired their guns during the incident would be “Disciplined and retrained”. He listed a number of issues with the way the arrest attempt was handled, including the fact that two MPs did not turn on body cameras and the SWAT team did not have EMS on standby. . Wooten said that in the future he would require the review of the threat assessment for technical operations to be prepared in writing, rather than discussed verbally as was the case in the events at Brown.

In a video posted to Facebook, Wooten said his office had “spoken to national experts on how to better implement best practices with our team” and that “the SWAT team will be reconfigured and retrained.”

In addition, Pasquotank County Commissioners approved $ 9,000 in de-escalation training for the Wooten office, according to the county. recordings. This training should begin in January and will include “Duty to intervene” courses. The responsibility of officers to respond to situations where co-workers may use excessive force was also recently enshrined in North Carolina in September when Bill 536 was signed in law.

Commissioners also approved nearly $ 60,000 for three new initiatives from the Sheriff’s Office, WAVY News Reported. Based in Arizona Police2Peace the non-profit organization will support the implementation of the initiative, including “renaming the sheriff’s deputies as’ peace officers’, forming a citizens’ advisory council and launching community listening sessions.” .

“This is a step forward,” Pasquotank NAACP chairman Keith Rivers told WAVY News after the board of commissioners meeting.

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Kate medley

File photo from May 2, 2021 of a mural in Elizabeth City, North Carolina that honors Andrew Brown Jr.

Full images pending

Six months after Brown’s murder, full-camera footage captured on April 21 has still not been released to the public. Legal efforts to search for the footage continue – Sheriff Wooten, along with a coalition of media, including WUNC, continue to push for full publication. The Brown family have withdrawn their initial request for full release, but intend to continue airing the video in federal litigation.

Coalition media attorney Mike Tadych argues in an amended petition that because District Attorney Womble failed to indict the officers involved, all videos should be shown. There would be no trial, and therefore no prejudice jury.

Petitions have suffered repeated delays in the court system. Wooten was originally scheduled to appear in court in July. His next court appearance is now scheduled for November 15th session. Pasquotank County District Attorney Mike Cox confirmed last week that the sheriff’s position remained that the video should be released.

Tadych presented the modified arguments of the media coalition at a hearing on September 13. The coalition has not heard from the court since then. Under North Carolina law, only a court can order the broadcast of a video. Law enforcement agencies that collect the video must first go to court before releasing any video they collect. A new state law signed by the governor in September creates a timeline for how quickly body camera images are to be disclosed, but does not regulate its broadcast.

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Kate medley

A plane sports a banner in honor of Andrew Brown Jr. during his funeral on Monday May. 3, 2021. The funeral service was held at the Fountain of Life Church in Elizabeth City, NC.

A patient push for long-term change

As efforts to get the camera footage of Brown’s body fully released continue, domestic public attention to the case has waned. Jones, the Elizabeth City native who was heavily involved in the spring protests, says she has had to change focus.

“It kind of goes from tragedy to tragedy to tragedy,” Jones said of the news in Elizabeth City. “It’s like, ‘Okay, get back to business as usual. You know, it’s that state of mind, and it’s kinda heartbreaking.

Jones no longer walks around town to protest Brown’s murder. But she’s hoping for long-term change. One change she’d like to see is a new rewrite of body camera laws in North Carolina.

“I hope that eventually the body cameras will be accessible to the public and readily available to anyone who wants to go and see them,” Jones said. “What good is it to have this false sense of security and this false sense of transparency, if there is no transparency at the end of it.” “

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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