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A state of emergency is now in effect in Elizabeth City, N.C., where the local sheriff’s office is expected to release publicly a deputy’s body camera footage from the killing of Andrew Brown Jr. last Wednesday. The city has also closed all of its government offices for the day.
Pasquotank County, N.C., Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said over the weekend that his office will ask a court to approve the video’s release on Monday. That step is required by North Carolina law as agencies generally do not have the authority to make such recordings public.
Brown’s relatives had been scheduled to view the recording at 11:30 a.m. Monday before its public release, their attorneys Ben Crump, Harry Daniels and Bakari Sellers said. But the viewing was postponed after authorities said they needed more time to redact the video, saying they will blur images of some people’s faces in the footage.
The Brown family’s attorneys sharply criticized the delay. Speaking at a news conference outside the sheriff’s office, Crump said, “Sheriff Wooten, you don’t need to say no more — just show the video.”
Crump also accused the county of using a double standard, saying the authorities “released a warrant saying all kinds of things about Andrew Brown, but they want to redact the face of the police officers that killed Andrew Brown.”
Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, while carrying out search and arrest warrants Wednesday. The warrants related to alleged cocaine and methamphetamine possession and distribution, Carolina Public Press reported.
Pasquotank County Attorney R. Michael Cox confirmed that the delay stems from editing the video to obscure people’s identities.
Cox said his office began working to set up a private viewing of the footage “immediately” after receiving the request Sunday. But he added, “The law also allows us to blur some faces on the video and that process takes time.”
His office is still working to get a court order to allow the video’s public release, Cox said. As for when Brown’s family will see the video, he said, “We hope this occurs today, but the actual time will be driven by the completion of the redactions.”
Earlier, Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker had said in an emergency declaration issued Monday morning that the video and audio recordings will likely be released “in the very near future.”
“City officials realize there may potentially be a period of civil unrest within the City following the public release of that footage,” she said.
City police also announced downtown road closures around the county courthouse and sheriff’s office on Monday, saying the streets “are closed for citizens exercising their constitutional right to a peaceful protest.”
Brown’s death immediately resulted in protests in Elizabeth City; police said over the weekend the demonstrations had not resulted in property damage or arrests.
In addition to seeking court approval to release video footage from that shooting, Wooten also said he asked the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to confirm that doing so would not undermine its investigation into Brown’s death.
As The Associated Press reported, scanner traffic suggests Brown was shot in the back:
“Recordings of scanner traffic compiled by broadcastify.com from the morning of the shooting include emergency personnel indicating that Brown was shot in the back. An eyewitness has said that deputies fired shots at Brown as he tried to drive away, and a car authorities removed from the scene appeared to have multiple bullet holes and its back windshield shattered.”
Brown died one day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd — a case that inflamed nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
The Elizabeth City mayor is calling for North Carolina to change its laws to streamline the release of footage from officer-worn cameras, saying a delay of up to 48 hours should be sufficient.
Initial details about Brown’s death “are tragic and extremely concerning,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said on Friday. He added, “The body camera footage should be made public as quickly as possible and the SBI should investigate thoroughly to ensure accountability.”