By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on June 9, 2021
The legal battle over the body camera footage that was a central issue in the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. by Pasquotank County Deputies may be over without a public release of the video.
The April 21 shooting occurred in front of Brown’s Elizabeth City home while he was in his vehicle as the deputies attempted to serve arrest and search warrants. Under North Carolina law, body camera footage cannot be publicly released without a court order, a statute that has come under attack from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein.
One key development on this issue occurred on June 4, when Brown’s children withdrew their petition for the release of the body camera footage. One reason, according to court records, is that the family was concerned that certain conditions attached to that release could “limit the petitioners’ constitutional right to pursue further litigation…”
The legal status of the body camera video had a day in court on April 28 when Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Foster denied a request from a consortium of media organizations to publicly release the footage, choosing to delay any release for 30 to 45 days so that the investigation into the Brown shooting by the NC State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) could be concluded.
That investigation was concluded, and on May 18, First Judicial District DA Andrew Womble – who showed excerpts from the body camera video during his press conference — decided not to prosecute the deputies, calling Brown’s shooting “justified.”
In an email to the Voice following the Brown family’s withdrawal of its petition to release the video, Womble expressed the view that the status of the footage is a dead issue, legally.
“My understanding of the status of the body cam issue is that the family has withdrawn their petition and the media petition was denied,” he wrote. “There is nothing further to be heard.”
Attorney Mike Tadych, who has represented the media consortium in its efforts to get the footage released, disagrees with that assessment. But he acknowledges uncertainty about what, if anything, happens next.
As for the media’s petition, I do not consider it to be dead,” he wrote in an email to the Voice, adding that in his ruling on April 28, Foster’s “written order said that release was ‘not appropriate at this time’ predicated on the continuing investigation and the DA’s review of same. Obviously, that’s happened but we have heard nothing further on when or if the court will take up our petition again.”
The court documents regarding the Brown family’s withdrawal of its request to release the footage reveal that on May 21, a telephone hearing was held by Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett, at which point he encouraged the parties to work out a consent agreement to govern the release of the video.
“Upon further discussion,” the document noted, “it appears that a consent order is not possible to be entered without a gag order provision and/or speech restriction on the content of any unredacted camera footage that is not formally released to the general public by the petitioners and their counsel.”
Multiple efforts by the Voice to reach attorneys for the Brown family for comment on this matter were unsuccessful. And a request for comment sent to the attorneys representing Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II were not answered.
And while the Brown case may be largely gone from the glare of the national media spotlight, there is a nonviolent march and rally scheduled for Saturday June 12 at 11:30 a.m. in Elizabeth City to press for further investigations into the shooting. Repairers of the Breach, the North Carolina Council of Churches and B.R.I.D.G.E. will lead the march.