Elizabeth City, NC – The district attorney announced Tuesday morning that none of the deputies involved in the fatal shooting of 42-year-old Andrew Brown at his residence in Elizabeth City would be criminally charged because his death was “justified due to his actions.”
“After reviewing the investigation conducted by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Brown’s death while tragic, 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,” Andrew Womble, the First Judicial District district attorney, told reporters at a press conference on May 18.
The First Judicial District of North Carolina includes Pasquotank, Dare, and five other counties.
Womble said the series of events that led to Brown’s death was put in motion by Brown himself several weeks earlier when he sold cocaine and fentanyl-laced heroin to an undercover law enforcement officer in Dare County.
Brown was fatally shot as he fled when Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies attempted to serve search warrants and arrest warrants at his home in the 400-block of Perry Street off Roanoke Avenue at about 8:30 a.m. on April 21, WNCN reported.
But when deputies arrived with the warrants, witnesses said that Brown got into his car and started to leave.
That’s when multiple deputies opened fire.
Initially, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said seven deputies had been placed on leave in connection with the incident, but four have been returned to duty since that time and only the three who actually shot Brown have been kept on paid administrative leave, as is protocol for all deputy-involved shootings.
Protests demanding justice for Brown erupted in Elizabeth City and other places across the country after the shooting, and the family has fought to have the bodycam video released to the public.
The family held a press conference after they were shown the footage and claimed it showed deputies started shooting at Brown as he sat still in his car.
But Womble told the judge at a hearing about the release of the bodycam in April that the Brown family’s assertions were “patently false” and said that officers shouted commands and tried to open the car doors before any shots were fired, the Associated Press reported.
The district attorney said Brown’s car made contact with deputies twice before they shot at him.
“As it backs up, it does make contact with law enforcement officers,” he said, and added that Brown stopped the car again, WSOC reported.
“The next movement of the car is forward,” Womble told the judge. “It is in the direction of law enforcement and makes contact with law enforcement. It is then and only then that you hear shots.”
At the press conference to announce his decision on May 18, Womble reminded reporters that the U.S. Supreme Court does not give prosecutors the ability to charge law enforcement officers for what is considered hindsight.
He said the decision about appropriateness of the use of force had to be based on what a reasonable officer experienced at the time of the incident.
“Using these parameters, I find that the facts of this case clearly illustrate that 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,” the district attorney told reporters.
Womble said deputies had a search warrant and two felony arrest warrants for Brown’s arrest when they arrived at his home to take him into custody and he made the “reckless” decision to run.
“The law enforcement officers were duty-bound to stand their ground, carry through on the performance of their duties, and take Andrew Brown into custody,” he explained to reporters. “They could not simply let him go as has been suggested.”
“The decision to flee – which Brown made on his own – quickly escalated the situation from a show-of-force to an employment-of-force,” the district attorney said.
He said Brown drove recklessly and endangered the officers and others in the area.
Womble said Brown posed an immediate threat to their safety.
“Mr. Brown’s conduct did not merely risk injuring officers by the time of the shooting, Brown had made two aggressive driving moves which caused his vehicle to contact Deputy Lunsford on both occasions,” the district attorney explained. “When the officers approached Brown with their guns drawn, his response was to maneuver his car and flee.”
He said Brown was undeterred by officers’ commands or a deputy trying to open the car door.
“Even after backing into a corner with no escape but to maneuver his vehicle directly at the officers, Brown continued the felonious assault by using his vehicle as a deadly weapon and made contact a second time with Deputy Lunsford,” Womble said.
The district attorney said law enforcement officers were on foot and directly in front of Brown’s vehicle when he drove at them.