The FBI has opened a federal investigation into the shooting a Black man who died in a hail of police bullets last week.
Andrew Brown Jr., 42, was killed Wednesday, April 21, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies descended on his home to serve arrest and search warrants. Brown was wanted on a felony drug charge and deputies said he had a history of resisting arrest.
“The FBI Charlotte Field Office has opened a federal civil rights investigation into the police involved shooting death of Andrew Brown, Jr.,” an FBI spokesperson said Tuesday in a statement provided to Atlanta Black Star. “Agents will work closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina and the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice to determine whether federal laws were violated. As this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot comment further.”
Brown was in a vehicle and attempted to drive away from the scene when he was killed. But a team of attorneys representing Brown’s family say the man had his hands on the steering wheel, posing no threat, and was backing away from deputies trying to avoid being shot. The lawyers released the findings of an independent, family-commissioned autopsy on Tuesday, which showed that Brown was killed by a bullet that struck him in the back of the head as he was driving away. He also sustained four non-fatal gunshot wounds to the right arm, according to the medical examination performed Watauga County pathologist Brent Hall.
After the fatal gunshot, Brown lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a tree, attorneys said.
“Yesterday I said he was executed. This autopsy report showed me that was correct. Those (four) gunshots to the arm, that wasn’t enough?” Brown’s son, Khalil Ferebee said Tuesday afternoon during a press conference in the courtyard outside the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s obvious he was trying to get away. It’s obvious. And they gon shoot him in the back of the head. Man, that s–t’s not right. That’s not right at all. Stuff got to change. It really gotta change for real.”
The shooting ignited several days of protests with community leaders demanding the release of bodycam footage and calling for Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II to be fired.
Ferebee spoke out on Monday after he and his family members got their first look at the body camera footage of Brown’s death.
“It’s like we against all odds in this world,” he said. “My dad got executed just by trying to save his own life. The officers were in no harm from him at all. It’s just messed up how this happened. For real. He got executed.”
Brown’s family and their attorneys were originally supposed to see the footage at 11:30 a.m. Monday, but county attorneys delayed the viewing to make redactions to the video. They blurred out the deputies’ faces and their guns. It was about 2 p.m. by the time family members were finally allowed to see a 20-second portion of the bodycam tape.
The bodycam has yet to be publicly released. Wooten said he is not allowed to release it without a court order, according to state law. Pasquotank County officials had agreed to let Brown’s family and attorneys to privately view the bodycam footage Monday morning.
But civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is leading the legal team, said the Sheriff’s Office provided only a “snippet” of the footage from just one of the several on-scene deputies’ body-worn devices.
“We do not feel that we got transparency. We only saw a snippet of the video, when we know that the video started before and after what they showed the family,” Crump said Monday. “And they determined what was ‘pertinent.’ Why couldn’t the family see all the video?”
Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, the family’s personal Elizabeth City attorney, watched the footage dozens of times Monday with Brown’s son, Ferebee. She said at least eight officers approached Brown’s car firing from all sides, some with assault rifles. There were already shell casings and bullet holes in the windshield before he began backing out of his driveway, she told reporters Monday.
“They went up to his vehicle shooting,” she said, noting that a deputy used his truck to block Brown in and he had his hands on the steering wheel.
The family wasn’t shown exactly what sparked the gunfire or and could say exactly how many rounds of ammunition the deputies fired off, but Lassiter and Ferebee indicated they heard “dozens of bullets fired” when they watched the footage.
“He wasn’t fleeing. Let’s get that word out of here,” said Harry Daniels, one of the family’s other attorneys. “He was trying to run because he was scared for his life. Anybody here if you get shot at, you’re gonna run. That’s bottom-line second nature, fight or flight.”
Attorneys decried the fact that little information has been made public about the shooting. Seven sheriff’s deputies have been placed on paid administrative leave in the wake of the shooting. Two have retired and one has resigned, attorneys indicate. During a news conference Crump fired back at officers have the option to resign, “they’ve tried to resign, get their full pension and retirement and ride off into the sunset after they shoot us in the back.”
“This tragic incident was quick and over in less than 30 seconds, and body cameras are shaky and sometimes hard to decipher. They only tell part of the story,” Wooten said in a video statement Monday.
Sheriff’s Office officials said outside agencies from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations and four different sheriff’s offices are questioning witnesses and investigating the shooting.
“Those people who claim the Sheriff’s Office has the ability to release either don’t know North Carolina law or they are trying to purposely enflame a tragic situation,” Pasquotank County Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg alleged.
Civil rights attorney Bakari Sellers, who is on the family’s high profile legal coalition, attacked North Carolina’s sunshine statutes, which call for a court order to release the bodycam footage, calling it a “bad law.” When a reporter asked Tuesday if the sheriff’s office intentionally avoided showing family the frames of video in which Brown was fatally struck, Sellers said none of the attorneys on the legal team had ever seen a video edited in such a way.
“Nobody up here has seen an edited video. So yes, law enforcement intentionally edited the video to 20 seconds and intentionally blurred out the officers and guns. And showed us what they wanted to show us under the guise of it being pertinent,” he said.
“The law does not require a judge’s order to show the family the entire video,” Sellers continued. “That was a discretionary decision made by the county to show them 20 seconds under the auspices of it being pertinent to them.”