Pasquotank County District Attorney R. Andrew Womble announced on Tuesday that the deputies who fatally shot a Black man fleeing an arrest in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, last month were justified in their actions.
“While tragic, the shooting of Mr. Brown was justified because Mr. Brown’s actions caused three deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others,” Womble said.
Anthony Brown Jr., 42, was fatally shot on April 21 as deputies served a drug-related warrant for his arrest. His death came just a day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, and was followed by calls for footage of the shooting to be made public.
Body camera footage of the incident was also released on Tuesday as officials announced that the officers involved wouldn’t face charges in Brown’s death following an independent investigation by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
“The facts of this case clearly illustrate the officers who used deadly force on Andrew Brown Jr. did so reasonably and only when a violent felon used a deadly weapon to place their lives in danger,” Womble said. He added that the law requires that only a perceived threat, rather than an actual threat, is necessary for law enforcement to use deadly force.
Deputies arrived at Brown’s home around 8:30 a.m. and attempted to serve two felony arrest warrants and a search warrant. Womble said they were “duty-bound to stand their ground, carry through on the performance of their duties and take Andrew Brown into custody” adding that deputies “could not simply let him go as has been suggested.”
On the day of the shooting, Brown tried to use his vehicle to get away. Womble said Brown’s decision to use his vehicle to flee “escalated the situation from a show of force to an employment of force.” Therefore, Brown’s actions were reckless and dangerous at the time of the shooting, Womble said.
According to Womble, Brown’s vehicle made contact with one deputy on two occasions, although no deputies were injured during the incident.
Three deputies fired their weapons at Brown “in rapid succession,” Womble said, adding that there is no evidence the number of shots was excessive.
“But even if there are an excessive number of shots, the question is whether the perceived threat has been neutralized for the safety of law enforcement officers present. In this case the deputies used the amount of force deemed reasonably appropriate by them to neutralize a perceived threat.”
Footage of the incident made public on Tuesday shows several deputies drive up to Brown’s home, jump out of the back of the police vehicle with guns drawn, and charge toward Brown’s vehicle. The car reversed away from officers then turned toward the street as Brown attempted to flee. Multiple shots were fired as deputies yelled at Brown to stop the car. About 10 seconds passed between when deputies jumped out and when the first shots rang out. Deputies continued to shoot at the vehicle as Brown’s car moved away before crashing nearby.
Brown had no weapons and was not known to carry them. Womble said deputies had previously been briefed on Brown’s criminal history, including a tendency to resist arrest.
According to the family-backed autopsy, Brown was shot five times, including once in the back of the head. Womble said that bullet ricocheted off a surface in the car before splitting into pieces and striking Brown in the head.
Family attorney Wayne Kendall called the shooting “nothing but a straight-up execution” after the family saw footage of the shooting last month.
Although the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation reviewed the incident, it said it “does not make any determinations as to whether criminal charges should be filed and/or determine if a person’s actions are justified or not.” The district attorney makes those decisions.
While the deputies involved in the shooting will be reinstated, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said they will be disciplined and retrained, specifically as relates to the use of body camera and the need to have emergency medical services on standby.
“While the district attorney concluded that no criminal law was violated, this was a terrible and tragic outcome, and we could do better,” Wooten said. Two deputies did not turn their body cameras on during the incident.
“Andrew Brown Jr., his grieving family, and this community deserve answers,” said a statement from Brown’s family released after the decision was announced. “And they received anything but from D.A. Womble’s attempt to whitewash this unjustified killing. To say this shooting was justified, despite the known facts, is both an insult and a slap in the face to Andrew’s family, the Elizabeth City community, and to rational people everywhere.”
The FBI has announced a civil rights probe into the shooting.