A North Carolina prosecutor said on Tuesday that the fatal shooting of a Black man in Elizabeth City, N.C., by local sheriff’s deputies was justified, because the man, Andrew Brown Jr., used his car as a “deadly weapon” as he tried to evade arrest. The deputies will not face criminal charges, he said.
R. Andrew Womble, the district attorney for North Carolina’s First Judicial District, made the announcement in a news conference on Tuesday, during which he described Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies’ efforts to serve a drug-related warrant on Mr. Brown and showed snippets of police body camera video from the brief, deadly encounter.
The facts of this case, Mr. Womble said, “clearly illustrate 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.”
Three deputies opened fire on Mr. Brown as he tried to get away in his car on April 21, firing 14 shots. His death, just days after a jury found a Minneapolis police officer guilty of murdering George Floyd, another Black man, sparked days of peaceful protest in Elizabeth City, a majority-Black city of 18,000 people on North Carolina’s eastern coast.
The family of Mr. Brown and their lawyers, who saw some video footage of the shooting earlier, have described it as an “execution,” arguing that deputies overreacted by opening fire on a man who was trying to get away from them, not hurt them. They said a private autopsy showed that he was hit by five bullets and killed by a shot to the back of the head.
But Mr. Womble said on Tuesday that Mr. Brown, at one point, drove his car “directly at” a deputy, giving the officers the legal right to open fire. Mr. Womble said an official autopsy showed that Mr. Brown was shot twice, including in the head, during an interaction that took a total of 44 seconds.
The prosecutor said that after the deputies arrived at Mr. Brown’s house to serve the warrant and surrounded him while he was in his car, Mr. Brown put the vehicle in reverse. At that point, Mr. Womble said, Sgt. Joel Lunsford, who had his hand on the driver’s side door handle, “was pulled over the hood of Brown’s vehicle, where his body and his safety equipment were struck by the vehicle.”
Mr. Womble said that Mr. Brown ignored deputies’ commands to stop, continued to back up and then put the car in drive. At that point, Sergeant Lunsford was “directly in front of the vehicle,” Mr. Womble said, and Mr. Brown drove directly at him.
“It was at this moment that the first shot was fired” by sheriff’s investigator Daniel Meads, Mr. Womble said. It went through the front windshield. Then multiple shots rang out.
The prosecutor said that a bag with a substance containing what is believed to be crystal methamphetamine was found in Mr. Brown’s mouth by the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy.
The officers, Mr. Womble said, were “duty-bound to stand their ground, carry through on the performance of their duties, and take Andrew Brown into custody. They could not simply let him go, as has been suggested.”
Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, had asked Mr. Womble to turn the case over to a special prosecutor, as have lawyers for the Brown family. Mr. Womble said Tuesday that a special prosecutor was not accountable to the people of North Carolina’s seven-county First Judicial District. “I am,” he said.
A local judge delayed the public release of the body camera videos, citing concerns that their release could compromise the investigation. The decision angered demonstrators and family members who said members of the public should have the right to see the recordings and decide for themselves whether the shooting was justified.
Although Mr. Womble showed portions of the video on Tuesday, he said that he was not authorized to release the full footage publicly.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.