DA Shows Body Camera Footage of Deputy Ambush, Calls Andrew Brown Jr. Death ‘Justified’
District Attorney Andrew Womble announced Tuesday that he will not seek charges against Pasquotank County deputies for fatally shooting Andrew Brown Jr. on April 21. Womble said the use of deadly force was justified because Brown drove his vehicle “recklessly” and threatened the deputies’ safety.
Womble made the statement in an at times contentious press conference where he also shared body camera footage of the incident, which had been thus far withheld from the public as ordered by a judge.
The scene unfolded in Elizabeth City, North Carolina as deputies approached Brown, 42, to execute a search warrant related to drugs. Seen in the video were several deputies, some in tactical SWAT gear who jumped out from the back of a truck bed, running up on Brown ambush-style with guns drawn. Brown was sitting inside his vehicle at the time.
Brown did back up and then drove forward and though an officer did move out of the way, it does not appear he attempted to strike the officers. If it was his intention to harm the officers, he could easily have veered slightly to the right and hit the officer on his passenger side. The officers then shot several rounds — 14 through the front windshield and several more that various other parts of the vehicle, including shots that hit the back of Brown’s car.
Womble said that one bullet struck a nearby home in the suburban residential area.
Brown’s car continued forward for a short distance before crashing into a tree. The deputies then ran to the vehicle and pulled Brown’s body out. They did not find any weapons inside the vehicle or in Brown’s possession.
The interaction lasted 44 seconds from the time officers jumped out of the back of the truck until they pulled Brown’s body from the car.
Preliminary autopsy results indicate he suffered two gunshot wounds: one to his right shoulder and another to the back of his head. Womble said in Tuesday’s press briefing that he believed the bullet that struck Brown’s head had ricocheted and was tumbling down when it made contact. The bullet had fractured into three pieces, making it impossible to forensically identify which officer’s firearm it came from, according to the DA. Hollow point and full-metal jacket bullets are known to fracture when they strike hard surfaces.
Womble said the medical examiner found a small bag in Brown’s mouth containing a substance appearing to be crystal meth.
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The DA called the fatal shooting “tragic” but added:
“I find that the facts of this case clearly illustrate that 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.”
The “violent felon” narrative is questionable.
Brown, a father of seven, did have a criminal record going back to the late 1990s. However, as Snopes reported, the only potentially violent arrest resulted in a misdemeanor assault stemming from an incident when he was 20 years old. Misdemeanor assaults can vary substantially and do not always involve actual physical contact. His record reflects a number of other non-violent arrests for “offenses that ranged in severity from driving with a revoked license to possessing illegal drugs.”
Based on information obtained from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Snopes determined that Brown did not have a violent criminal history and was not known to illegally use firearms.
Brown’s family and attorneys have argued that he fled because he was surprised and scared when officers suddenly came at him with assault rifles.
For law enforcement perspective, this reporter spoke about the incident with a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, who chose to remain anonymous. He questioned why the officers didn’t instead attempt to box in Brown’s vehicle or wait until the arrest could be made in a safer manner. He also condemned the shooting entirely, given that Brown was not carrying a firearm. In his opinion, the aggressive approach was excessive for a non-violent drug case.
The investigative report Womble used to make his determination will not be publicly released by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.