As North Carolina authorities face mounting pressure to release body camera footage of a law enforcement encounter that left a 42-year-old Black man dead, officials released a statement on Thursday claiming state law prohibits them from making the video public without a court order.
Anthony Brown Jr. was unarmed, the family’s attorney said, when he was fatally shot when Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies fired at him as what authorities say was an arrest warrant was being served at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 21, in Elizabeth City.
His death came the day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on charges of second-degree and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter.
The Brown family’s attorney, Harry Daniels, said witnesses described the shooting an “unlawful, unjustified killing.”
Daniels said at a Thursday press conference, “To my understanding, there is body camera footage to this incident, and it has not been released. A lot of speculation is going on — we’re asking for answers, accountability and transparency. This is something we are demanding immediate release.”
The deputies, who have not been identified, were executing the warrant at Brown’s rental home on Wednesday morning. Officials have not provided many details about the shooting, including what the warrant was served for or how many shots were fired at Brown.
Demetria Williams, a neighbor who lives a few houses down from Brown, told the News & Observer on Thursday that after she heard shots ring out, she ran to see what was happening.
She says she saw deputies fire at Brown multiple times. The car he was in then skidded from Brown’s front yard and hit a tree.
By the time she reached Brown’s house, deputies were removing his body from the driver’s seat of the car before starting to perform CPR.
“I got down there and they were shooting at the car,” Williams said. “He didn’t get far because the sheriff deputies were in the driveway. He was getting away. He wasn’t a threat.”
Williams said she counted 14 shell casings on the ground and noticed the rear window of the vehicle had been shot out.
“To my understanding, Mr. Brown was not armed, and the bullets entered into the back of the vehicle, as though he was leaving the scene,” Daniels said. “Based on the witnesses that said that he was not armed and he was fleeing, that is not lawful.”
Daniels also said there were three deputies who fired their weapons at Brown, and all three have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation.
“Our special agents are working this investigation as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. We understand the need for transparency and will release what information we can when we’re able to release it,” the SBI said on Thursday.
Protesters gathered in Elizabeth City after the shooting holding signs that read “Release the video” and “We want the truth.”
Pasquotank NAACP President Keith Rivers also called for the footage of the shooting to be made public.
“Many times it is not the act but it’s what we do after the act that determines who and what we are,” Rivers said. “The release of the body camera footage as soon as possible is a must to build the transparency that is needed in our community.”
Sheriff Tommy Wooten said the officers involved activated their body-worn cameras, and added that he doesn’t have a timeline for when footage of the shooting might be released.
Wooten said in a video posted to Facebook on Thursday, “If evidence shows that any of my deputies violated the law or policies they will be held accountable because that’s what the citizens expect me to do and it’s the right thing to do.”
Officials said in a statement released jointly by District Attorney Andrew Womble and Pasquotank County Attorney Michael R. Cox that a court order will be required for the footage to be made public.
“We know people want to see the body camera footage. It is reasonable for people to ask to see it, because such video can help provide key context about what happened in incidents like this. However, under North Carolina law, police body worn camera footage is not a public record and cannot be released to the press or public without a court order. … We must follow the law and the law prohibits us from publicly releasing the body worn camera footage. The law does allow a private viewing by the family of Mr. Brown [and] we are working with their attorney to arrange that,” the statement said.
Community members who gathered in Elizabeth City after the shooting said Brown was not a violent person, and alleged his body remained in the street for four hours after he was shot.
Brown, affectionately called “Drew” by friends and family, was a father of seven children.
“He had a good laugh, a nice smile. And he had good dimples,” Brown’s aunt Glenda Brown Thomas said in an interview Thursday, a day after her nephew was killed. “You know, when he’s talking and smiling, his dimples would always show. And he was kind of like a comedian. He always had a nice joke.”