By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on April 26, 2021
Update April 26 at 7:15 pm: A roughly minute-long video statement issued by the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Department at about 6 p.m. on April 26 offered a piece of news and something of a rebuttal to supporters of Andrew Brown Jr. who harshly criticized county officials at an afternoon press conference for showing them only 20 seconds of body camera video earlier in the day.
In the video statement, Pasquotank County Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg said that County Attorney R. Michael Cox has now filed a court motion to publicly release the video camera footage that has become one of the early flashpoints in this situation. “We will comply with the judge’s order,” he added.
Also in the video, Sheriff Tommy Wooten II, in an apparent response to the afternoon press conference, added that, “This tragic incident was quick and over in less than thirty seconds. And body cameras are shaky and sometimes hard to decipher. They only tell part of the story.”
Update April 26 at 5:45 pm: At an April 26 afternoon press conference, family, friends and supporters of Andrew Brown Jr. blasted Pasquotank County officials after they were allowed to see only 20 seconds of body camera video of the April 21 shooting of Brown by Pasquotank Sheriff’s deputies.
According to the speakers at the Elizabeth City press conference, Pasquotank County Attorney R. Michael Cox directed the process of showing the video, which included 20 seconds of footage, which came from just one of deputies’ cameras. Several attorneys connected with Brown’s family called the shooting an “execution.”
“Why is it they get to choose what’s the pertinent part of the video to show the family?” asked attorney Ben Crump, who also worked for the family of George Floyd. “We want all of [the video]. Let’s see with our own eyes.”
Attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter said that shots were being fired at Brown in his vehicle at the very start of the video segment they saw. When asked if she had an idea of how many shots were fired in those 20 seconds, she responded: “We lost count.”
Update April 26 at 12:40 pm: As tensions over the Andrew Brown Jr. shooting increase, District Attorney Andrew Womble has released a statement regarding any release of the body camera footage of the incident.
“Any such disclosure or release is governed by NCGS 132-1.4A, which requires a Superior Court Judge to review and balance the statutory factors enumerating the who, what, when, where, and how of any disclosure or release.,” said Womble in the statement that went out shortly before noon on April 26. “Everyone should want a full, fair, complete, and impartial investigation. I commit to review that investigation and make decisions based on the facts and the law.”
At roughly the same time, family friends and supporters of Brown’s were holding an impassioned press conference to express their displeasure after learning that a planned meeting for today to show the video to family had been, at the least, delayed.
In a message posted on the Pasquotank County Facebook page at noon, County Attorney R. Michael Cox stated that certain “redactions” needed to be made to the video before it could be shared with Brown’s family.
“The law also allows us to blur some faces on the video and that process takes time,” Cox wrote. “Pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. Section 132-1.4A, this may be done when necessary to protect an active internal investigation. As soon as these redactions are complete, we will allow the family to view this footage…We are also continuing to seek transparency within the law and continue our efforts to get a court order that would allow the video to be released to the public.”
The delay in showing footage to the family, along with the news of some edits being done, triggered protests at the Brown press conference. Directed by speakers, the crowd repeatedly chanted “What do you want? Video,” and “We can’t breathe,” at the event.
April 26 10:24 am: In anticipation of the family of Andrew Brown Jr. viewing body camera footage of the fatal shooting incident — and with the expectation that the footage might publicly be released soon — Elizabeth City declared a State of Emergency today “to ensure the safety of our citizens and their property” in the event of “civil unrest.”
The declaration, which was signed by Mayor Bettie J. Parker and goes into effect at 8 a.m. on April 26, directs all city agencies and departments to “take whatever steps necessary to protect life and property, public infrastructure, and provide such emergency assistance deemed necessary to preserve public safety.” Elizabeth City municipal offices are also closed today.
Brown was fatally shot by Pasquotank County Deputy Sheriffs in Elizabeth City on April 21 after reportedly trying to elude them in a vehicle while being served with a felony drug warrant. Pressure to publicly release the footage — which according to North Carolina law can only be done through a court order — has come from various sources, including a consortium of news organizations.
According to numerous reports, Brown’s family may get a first chance to see the footage today, but when and if it is released publicly is still unknown at this point.
At an emergency meeting on April 23, the Elizabeth City Council unanimously voted to send a formal letter seeking the release of the footage to Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten’s office, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and District Attorney Andrew Womble, and then to send it to Superior Court if the request was denied by the law enforcement agencies.
In a video statement posted the next day, Wooten announced that he would ask a judge to release body camera footage of the incident if the SBI assures him such a release will not hamper its investigation.
Contacted today by the Voice about such an assurance, the SBI responded by citing a statement it issued last Thursday. That statement said: “We understand the need for transparency and will release what information we can when we’re able to release it…In North Carolina, body-worn video shall only be released pursuant to a court order under NCGS 132-1.4A(g). Any requests as it relates to the release of such video should be directed to the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office or the District Attorney’s Office.”
The Voice has contacted District Attorney Womble’s office for comment as well.