More bodycam videos to be shown to Andrew Brown Jr.'s family; will not yet be released publicly, judge says

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Family of Andrew Brown reacts to footage of deadly Elizabeth City shooting
A North Carolina family and their attorneys are reacting with anger and frustration after viewing only a short bodycam video of the shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City.People have started leaving candles-creating a memorial at the scene Where Andrew Brown Jr. was shot and killed.

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The body camera video in the killing of Andrew Brown Jr. will not be released publicly for at least 30 days, a judge ruled Wednesday.

While Judge Jeffrey Foster said the video was of "compelling public interest," he worried public release of the video could harm the ongoing investigation into the case and post a "threat to administration of justice."

That's why he put a hold on public release of the video for now. He said the video could be released in 30 days but had to be released within 45 days.

In the meantime, Brown's son Khalil Ferebee and an attorney will be allowed to see all of the video within 10 days.

Brown's family was permitted to see one 20-second clip on Monday. The ruling means they will now be allowed to see five more bodycam videos and one dashcam video.

The judge also ordered that the videos be censored before they are shown to anyone, in order to protect the officers' identity.

Brown was shot and killed by Pasquotank County deputies on April 21 while inside his car. The deputies were at his home serving drug-related search and arrest warrants.

An independent autopsy performed by Autopsy PC at the request of the family found that Brown was shot five times, with the final and fatal blow entering the back of his head.

After the hearing, attorneys for the media and Brown's family spoke about the decision.

One lawyer called District Attorney Andrew Womble's claim that Attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter's account of the 20-second snippet was inaccurate as, "beyond reprehensible."

"I stand by my account," Cherry-Lassiter said.

She also said: "A couple days ago, Bakari Sellers told you guys how he felt disrespected as a Black man. I have felt that same disrespect today."

Body camera footage isn't public record in North Carolina -- what this means for police transparency in an era of reform

Attorney Ben Crump and his co-counsels released the following statement following the ruling:

"We are deeply disappointed by the judge's decision to not make body camera footage from the involved officers available to be viewed by the public. In this modern civil rights crisis where we see Black people killed by the police everywhere we look, video evidence is the key to discerning the truth and getting well-deserved justice for victims of senseless murders. Just look at the murder of George Floyd - if the world had not seen that clear and disturbing footage, there might not have even been an ounce of accountability for those officers. We refuse to be discouraged and vow to keep the pressure on these agencies until we get to the truth. We will not stop saying his name. Andrew Brown Jr."

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II weighed in after the hearing. The sheriff said he was disappointed the footage won't be released immediately, but will respect the judge's decision.

"I wanted the body camera footage to be released to the public as soon as possible, and I'm disappointed it won't happen immediately. Obviously, I'll respect the judge's ruling... the independent investigators are working to complete their investigation," he said.

During the court hearing Wednesday prior to the judge's ruling, the district attorney said Brown made "contact with law enforcement officers" with his car before they shot him.

"The video, the body cam video, clearly shows Mr. Brown's car in a stationary position when approached by law enforcement, and they begin to shout commands. The car is still stationary when law enforcement officers grab the door handle, still shouting commands. The car goes in a reverse position," he said. "The law enforcement officer is forced to release the door handle, and the car is backing up--those were the comments made by Miss Cherry-Lassiter (attorney representing Brown family), the car backing up, those movements. The car then stops; it is stationary once again. As it backs up it does make contact with law enforcement officers. At this point the car is stationary, there is no movement and officers are positioned around the car. The next movement of the car is forward, it is in the direction of law enforcement and makes contact with law enforcement. It is then and only then you hear shots."

The official autopsy report from the coroner's office has not been released.

At Gov. Roy Cooper's media briefing Wednesday afternoon, where he made major announcements in the response to COVID-19, the questions inevitably turned to the Brown case.

"Changes need to be made to made to ensure fairness in our justice system and to stand up against racial injustice in North Carolina," Cooper responded to one of the queries. "I encourage everyone to our task force recommendation as we move forward on those."

Judge Foster acknowledged the intense national scrutiny over this case, but made it clear his decision would not take into account any of those pressures.

"There will be no decision made based on political whims of elected officials," Foster said.

Arguing before the judge were Pasquotank County Attorney Michael Cox, District Attorney Andrew Womble, attorney H.P. Williams representing unnamed individuals, and attorney Mike Tadych representing various media members.

Cox briefly argued that the sheriff's office was legally bound to not release the video when first asked to do so by Brown's family. He said North Carolina law gives that decision solely to the judge.

Cox went on to say the sheriff's office now formally requests the video be released to Brown's family and the media.

"(This) sad event has drawn great public interest and scrutiny. While the body cam footage only shows one perspective for a limited period of time, it might give the public some ability to understand what happened that day," Cox said.

District Attorney Womble spoke for the longest amount of time. He laid out an argument for why he supported the release of the video to Brown's family as well as the public, but he wanted to do it in a controlled environment so as to not corrupt the legal process.

"(Release of the video now) will hinder the orderly administration of justice, and it will hinder a fair trial," Womble said.

Williams spoke after Womble. Williams said he represented attorneys and clients who did not want to be identified due to a fear for their own safety.

He argued police were justified in shooting Andrew Brown: "The officers are very distraught over what happened. They feel for the family of Andrew Brown. But, as Mr. Womble described to you, we believe that the shooting was justified."

Finally, Tadych argued on behalf of various media members. He said the video is of high public interest and should be released as soon as possible. He explained dozens of similar cases in North Carolina where the video had been released, saying there was plenty of precedent for the judge to do so.

He also said the director of the SBI said release of the video would not hinder the investigation.

WATCH: Street-cam footage shows police heading to serve Brown with search warrant

New footage released Tuesday shows police heading to the house where Andrew Brown Jr. was killed.

A funeral will be held next week for Brown, with the Rev. Al Sharpton delivering the eulogy. Lawyers for Brown's family said that the funeral will be held Monday in Elizabeth City. Other details of the arrangements were still being settled.

The director of the State Bureau of Investigation issued a statement on Wednesday morning saying the agency is committed to finding out what happened.

"Our role is to pursue the truth and to ultimately share the results of our work with the prosecutor," the statement said, in part. "To that end, I want to assure that the full resources of the NC SBI are being utilized to pursue an independent, thorough, and impartial investigation into the matter of Mr. Brown's death."

Meanwhile, the FBI announced Tuesday that it had opened a federal civil rights investigation into the case.

Also on Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper called for a special prosecutor to be assigned to the case in order to reassure the public that the case is "conducted without bias."