ELIZABETH CITY — Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr. will not face state criminal charges, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble announced Tuesday.
Brown put officers’ lives in danger by not responding to their commands when they approached his car at his residence in Elizabeth City to serve arrest warrants and a search warrant, Womble said.
“Mr. Brown had two choices — he could comply or he could try to flee,” Womble said.
Brown’s decision to flee in a vehicle in the direction of officers, Womble said, justified the officers’ use of deadly force.
Bakari Sellers, a lawyer representing the Brown family, said the family is disappointed but are not surprised by Womble’s decision. He said the family intends to file a civil suit within the next week.
“The contact that was made was initiated by law enforcement,” Sellers said. “There’s no way anybody can look at that video and say that Andrew Brown used that vehicle as a weapon.”
Sellers previously asked Womble to recuse himself from the case, and Sellers maintains Womble is not impartial in considering a case against law enforcement officers.
Womble did not explain all of his statements in the conference, Sellers said, such as why four of the seven officers present did not fire their weapons if Brown posed a danger.
Investigator Daniel Meads, Deputy Robert Morgan and Cpl. Aaron Lewellyn fired 14 shots after Brown drove his car toward another officer, Deputy Joel Lunsford, according to Womble and to sections of body camera footage Womble showed to the press.
As Brown backed up, Lunsford’s hand was on the driver’s side door handle, and he was partially pulled onto the hood of the car, bracing himself with his forearm, according to Womble, who said at this point the car struck Lunsford’s leg as well.
When Brown pulled forward, Lunsford again had his hand on the hood of Brown’s car and he moved to the right of the vehicle, and at this point, the first shot was fired, and it went into the front of the vehicle, Womble said.
Womble said he did not know whether Lunsford sought medical care.
Womble’s account differed from the perspective of attorneys for Brown’s family, who last week said Brown was turning the car away from the officers.
At the press conference on Tuesday, Womble showed part of the body camera video footage of officers on the scene.
The footage showed officers approaching Brown’s vehicle and yelling, “Get your hands up” and “Stop!”
Within seconds, the officers yelled “Motherf–ker” and “Stop the g–damn car.” Approximately 12 seconds from the time the law enforcement vehicle stopped, shots were fired.
Under the law, once a threat is perceived, the first shot is justified and any subsequent shots are justified until the threat is neutralized, Womble said.
Deputies perceived a threat and acted to neutralize the threat when they shot Brown outside his home in Elizabeth City, Womble said.
Womble’s decision not to charge the officers came at the conclusion of a State Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the incident.
The SBI issued a statement noting 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. Furthermore, in its role as impartial fact-finder, it is not the NC SBI’s place to agree or disagree with any prosecutor’s decision regarding an investigation.”
What the videos showed
Womble showed four videos from officers’ body cameras. They showed the moments from when the sheriff’s deputies pulled up to Brown’s residence to when they pulled him from his car, after he had suffered the fatal shot to the back of his head.
The videos appear to show sheriff’s deputies approaching 421 Perry Street at 8:23 a.m. on April 21 in a black truck that was labeled as a sheriff’s vehicle.
Deputies jumped out of the bed of the truck and exited the cabin and fanned out in front of Brown’s car, where Brown was already sitting. They yelled for Brown to get out of the car. He did not.
As soon as Brown did not follow the commands of a law enforcement officer, he was using the vehicle as a deadly weapon, Womble said.
“We believe Womble misstated the law,” Sellers said, speaking generally about Womble’s legal analysis that the use of deadly force was justified. Sellers declined to identify specific inaccuracies in Womble’s analysis.
One officer, Lunsford, approached the driver’s side door and put his hand on the handle.
At that point, Brown put his car into reverse. This is 13 seconds after the sheriff’s truck turned onto Perry St. and five seconds after officers first yelled commands.
The car appears to pull Lunsford off balance. His left arm hit the hood of Brown’s car. At this point, Womble said, Lunsford was struck in the lower part of his body by the car, but that cannot be seen clearly on the video shown Tuesday..
The officers yelled for Brown to stop and to get out of the car.
No deputies were behind the car as it backed up. Brown was prevented from backing up further by the edge of his residence. The officers were again fanned out in front and to the side of Brown’s car.
Brown began to pull forward. Officers continued to yell at Brown to stop the car.
Brown pulled forward, turning left into the empty lot next to his house. Lunsford was in the path of the car and moved to the right of the car. One shot was fired by the officer on the driver’s side.
Brown’s car moved across the yard just after the shot was fired and after Lunsford was clear of the vehicle, which happened at about the same moment.
Two seconds later, before the rear right wheel of the car left the driveway, more shots rang out. The shooting lasted for a total of three seconds. According to Womble, a total of 14 shots were fired, all of which struck Brown’s vehicle.
One bullet penetrated a neighbor’s house. That bullet likely ricocheted off of Brown’s car, Womble said.
The bullet that killed Brown also struck the car first before hitting Brown in the back of the head, at the base of his skull, Womble said. He said that information came from an analysis by Dr. Karen Kelly, a pathologist at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.
As Brown was driving across the yard, he appeared to lose control of the vehicle as the shots were fired. The shooting stopped and the car crossed the street and crashed into a tree in his neighbor’s yard.
The deputies ran across the yard. As they approached the vehicle, they yelled for Brown to show his hands. Brown did not respond. They opened the car door and called for EMS.
The videos do not show the deputies removing Brown from the car or providing medical attention. At that point, it was clear that Brown was “expiring,” Womble said, and it did not further the public interest to show those moments.
Editor’s note: This is a developing story and will continue to be updated.