By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on April 28, 2021
Update: Putting himself at odds with District Attorney Andrew Womble, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II released a statement expressing disappointment that the body camera footage in the Andrew Brown case will not be released immediately.
“I wanted the body camera footage to be released to the public as soon as possible and I’m disappointed it won’t happen immediately,” the statement read. “Although we’re unable to show the public what happened right now, the independent investigators are working to complete their investigation. As soon as all 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.”
In what attorney Wayne Kendall called “a partial victory for the family,” Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Foster ruled on April 28 that the immediate family of Andrew Brown Jr. can see an edited version of the video footage related to Brown’s shooting death within 10 days. At the same time, Foster denied a request by a coalition of media organizations to publicly release the body camera footage of the incident, deciding to delay any release for anywhere from 30 to 45 days so the investigation by the NC State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) can be concluded.
At an April 28 COVID press briefing that included a number of questions about the Brown case, Governor Roy Cooper said he favored changing the law that now requires a court order to release such body camera footage, “so that the video is presumed to be public” rather than requiring a judge to make it public.
Brown was fatally shot in his vehicle by Pasquotank County Sheriff Deputies on April 21 while they were serving a felony drug warrant. Thus far, Brown’s family has only been allowed to see a 20-second video segment of the incident. Attorneys for the family have released a private autopsy report that concluded that the fatal shot was to the back of Brown’s head.
In denying the media petition, Judge Foster ruled that the consortium did not have the legal standing to make a request. In a press availability after the ruling, consortium lawyer Mike Tadych seemed stunned by the decision, saying simply: “I don’t understand the standing issue, at all.”
In his decision to allow the disclosure — but not the release — of video to Brown’s immediate family, Judge Foster said it would include video from five body cameras. He added that such footage would be edited to redact or blur the identities and facial features of the deputies.
During today’s court hearing, First Judicial District DA Andrew Womble argued to delay the release of footage for 30 days in order to let the SBI investigate the case before he made any charging decision.
One day earlier, in what appeared to be a shot across Womble’s bow, Cooper called for the appointment of a special prosecutor in the Brown case. After that, Womble issued a statement of his own, noting that, “I stand ready willing and able to fulfill my statutory obligations and well as my Oath of Office for the people of the First Judicial District.”
At their press conference that followed the judge’s April 28 ruling, Womble came under fire from Brown family attorneys who said that in court, he had accused one of those attorneys —Chantel Cherry-Lassiter — of misrepresenting what she had seen in that 20-second video clip of the shooting. They attorneys argued that if Womble had supported public release of the full video, there would be no disagreement on what happened. Referencing Cooper’s statement, Wayne Kendall said, “There is no better reason to have a special prosecutor than what we heard from Mr. Womble in court today.”