(CNN) — District Attorney Andrew Womble said Tuesday that the deputies who fatally shot Andrew Brown Jr. last month were justified in using deadly force, citing a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation probe.
Womble said the shooting, “while tragic, was justified because Mr. Brown’s actions caused three deputies to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others.”
Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies in Elizabeth City on April 21 when they attempted to serve him with an arrest warrant, according to the sheriff’s office.
A source with knowledge told CNN that the Brown family has not received any advanced information on the findings.
Womble, the district attorney for Pasquotank and nearby counties, has said Brown’s moving vehicle made contact with law enforcement officers twice before the deputies opened fire. But the Brown family and their attorneys, who have watched body-camera and dash-cam videos of the shooting, say Brown was not a threat to the officers.
“It was absolutely, unequivocally unjustified,” attorney Chance Lynch said last week. “Our legal team is more committed now to pursue justice … because what we saw today was unconstitutional and it was unjustifiable.”
A copy of Brown’s death certificate says he died as a result of a gunshot wound of the head, and an autopsy commissioned by Brown’s family specified the shot was to the back of his head.
The killing led to protests in Elizabeth City against police violence and the authorities’ lack of transparency.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten put seven deputies on administrative leave. He has since reinstated four deputies he said did not fire their weapons. The three who did fire remain on leave.
Members of Brown’s family were allowed by a court order to view some body camera footage of his death, but they and members of the community have called for the public release of the videos.
Family and authorities dispute what footage shows
On April 28, Womble said Brown’s car in the video was stationary when officers approached shouting commands. As officers attempted to open a door on the car, the vehicle backed up and made contact with an officer.
Womble said the car then stopped before moving forward and again made contact with law enforcement. After the car moved forward, shots are heard, Womble said.
Attorneys for the family have provided different explanation of what happened. In the bodycam footage, Lynch said he saw Brown ambushed while sitting in his vehicle. At all times his hands were visible, Brown was possibly on his phone at the time, and he did not pose a threat to law enforcement, the attorney said.
A first shot was fired, at which time Brown put his car in reverse, “several feet, if not yards away, from the police who were there,” Lynch said. In the videos viewed, Lynch said he saw Brown turn his wheel to the left, and away from law enforcement, and that police officers were not visible behind his vehicle.
“At no point did we ever see Mr. Brown make contact with law enforcement,” Lynch told reporters. “We were able to see where they possibly reached out to make contact to him, but we did not see any actions on Mr. Brown’s part where he made contact with them or try to go in their direction. In fact, he did just the opposite.”
Lynch said that Brown went in the opposite direction of a group of officers in front of his vehicle, and that a second shot was fired as he turned to the left to go across his yard. Lynch said he lost count of how many shots were fired in all.
“There were so many shots, that we found difficulty in counting the number of shots that his vehicle received. At some point, there was a final shot, where it appeared that at that final shot Mr. Brown lost control,” the attorney said.
The attorneys for Brown’s family have called for Womble to recuse himself from the case, citing “well-defined” conflicts between the prosecutor and the sheriff’s office.
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