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Prosecutor: Andrew Brown Jr.'s Car Was 'Deadly Weapon' That Justified Fatal Shooting By Deputies

Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble speaks at a news conference Tuesday.
Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble speaks at a news conference Tuesday.

The deputies who fatally shot Andrew Brown Jr. last month in Elizabeth City will not face charges. Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble said today that Brown's shooting by three deputies was tragic but justified because law enforcement officers reasonably believed they were in danger.

"The deputy's actions appear reasonable under all the circumstances of the case," Womble said at a news conference. "The deputies faced both actual danger and apparent danger as perceived by them on the scene. This apparent threat was reinforced by Brown's dangerous and felonious use of a deadly weapon."

The deadly weapon being a vehicle. Womble's decision follows an inquiry by the State Bureau of Investigation. Will Michaels of North Carolina's Public Radio is in Pasquotank County and joined WFAE's "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn to discuss Tuesday's announcement.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Will, so what made Andrew Brown so dangerous that makes this fatal shooting justified in the view of the district attorney?

Will Michaels: Well, as you said, according to the district attorney, it was Andrew Brown using his car as a deadly weapon that made these deputies perceive that their lives were in danger and therefore the shooting being justified. We reporters in the room asked the district attorney about a few more details of this, and he said, you know, the standard is that there is a "perceived danger" to these deputies' safety in order to justify the shooting.

But he went on to actually answer that and say that he believed that as soon as Andrew Brown did not comply with orders to put his hands up while he was in his car, that that car then became a deadly weapon, according to his interpretation of North Carolina statutes.

So there is some dissonance, I think, that reporters caught onto between this idea of using a car as a deadly weapon and him also trying to flee because as the district attorney said, it appears that Brown was trying to flee. And his argument is that Brown, by fleeing with those officers being so close by, made his car deadly.

Glenn: So what body worn camera footage was shown to reporters Tuesday, and any change in it being available to the public?

A screen shot of still images from body worn cameras on deputies attempting to arrest Andrew Brown Jr. was shown at the Pasquotank County district attorney's news conference.
A screen shot of still images from body worn cameras on deputies attempting to arrest Andrew Brown Jr. was shown at the Pasquotank County district attorney's news conference.

Michaels: Well, the district attorney showed about 45 seconds of body camera footage from four different deputies. Now, this is the footage of the deputies approaching Andrew Brown's car, the shooting and then the immediate aftermath as they approached the car. But that's it.

There is no indication that any more footage will be released, at least at this point. The district attorney said that he is not willing to release any more footage right now. He released this footage because he says that this was the part of the footage that hinged on his decision not to press charges against the deputies and that any other part of the footage is not relevant.

Glenn: And watching that, what questions remain for you after seeing that footage?

Michaels: Well, I think that's one of them: what happened before these deputies approached? What happened after they retrieved Andrew Brown's body from his car? The district attorney says that they attempted to perform life-saving procedures, but that those were unsuccessful.

The family of Andrew Brown Jr. has also said that they want to see the rest of that footage. But I think there's also, you know, this question of whether a judge, as you know, in the state of North Carolina, it takes a judge's order to actually release this footage. It remains to be seen whether that judge will actually allow that release.

Andrew Womble, the district attorney, said Tuesday that he was releasing this very short snippet of footage because he decided not to press charges and because the investigation is over. He doesn't believe that showing that amount of footage will taint any sort of jury pool because there will not be any charges.

Glenn: And was he asked in terms of, the family after they saw the footage, called it — and the attorneys called it — an "execution." And the big difference in what he's saying Tuesday. Did he address that?

Michaels: He did. He actually started addressing this a month ago in the hearing in which the judge was considering whether or not to release all of the body camera footage. And even at that point, the district attorney was admonishing attorneys for Andrew Brown, saying that their interpretation of the video was a gross misrepresentation of the actual video.

There's an indication from the family that they are standing by what they saw. They're standing by their own interpretation that he was simply trying to get away and the deputies were not in any danger.

Glenn: Well, what has the family said about this decision and what's been the reaction in Elizabeth City?

Michaels: Yeah, a few things. One, the family first said that they disputed Andrew Womble's interpretation entirely, and said that this shooting was not justified. They also pointed out that four out of the seven deputies who were on the scene at the time did not fire their weapons. And they suggested that that showed that those deputies did not feel that their lives or others were in danger.

And then, as I said, their big call was to release the body camera footage in full — and a copy of the State Bureau of Investigation's actual investigation into this. Andrew Womble said Tuesday that he would not release either of those.

Glenn: And any idea if they will face federal charges or when the FBI civil rights probe will be completed?

Michaels: Not yet. Andrew Womble was actually asked about that in the press conference today as well. He said that he has been in contact with federal authorities, but that to his knowledge, he doesn't know where that investigation stands.

Glenn: OK, Will Michaels, thank you for being with us.

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Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.
Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.