North Carolina sheriff’s deputies were “justified” in their fatal shooting of a Black man in April because the man ignored their commands and drove his car directly at one of them before they fired any shots, a prosecutor said Tuesday. District Attorney Andrew Womble said none of the deputies involved would be criminally charged in the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr.
“The officers’ actions were consistent with their training and fully supported under the law in protecting their lives and this community,” Womble said during a press conference.
The district attorney said that Brown used his car as a “deadly weapon,” causing Pasquotank County deputies to believe it was necessary to use deadly force. Womble acknowledged Brown wasn’t armed with guns or other weapons as deputies were trying to take him into custody while serving drug-related warrants at his house in Elizabeth City on April 21.
In a statement, the Brown family’s attorneys said Womble was making an “attempt to whitewash this unjustified killing.”
“The bottom line is that Andrew was killed by a shot to the back of the head,” the attorneys said. “Interestingly, none of these issues were appropriately addressed in today’s press conference.”
The prosecutor said he would not release bodycam video of the confrontation between Brown and the law enforcement officers, but he played portions of the video during the news conference. The video came from four body cameras worn by deputies during the shooting.
In the footage played to reporters, the deputies are seen jumping out of the back of a sheriff’s office pickup truck as it pulls up to Brown’s house. The deputies then rush toward Brown, who was in his car.
As the deputies surround the car, one of them, who Womble identified as Deputy Joel Lunsford, tried to open the driver’s side door.
Womble said Brown was holding his phone when the deputies approached the vehicle and that Brown threw the phone down and began to rapidly back the car away from the deputies. As the car backed away, the door handle came out of Lunsford’s hand, Womble said.
Brown then drove the car forward and to the left between two deputies as he was told to stop the vehicle. As the car was moving, Lunsford appeared to briefly brace his left hand against the passenger side of the hood.
“It was at this moment that the first shot is fired,” Womble said. He said the first shot fired at Brown’s car went through the front windshield, not the back as was previously reported.
As Brown drove away, the deputies opened fire with bullets entering the car through the passenger side of the car, the rear windshield and the trunk, according to Womble. He said the incident lasted a total of 44 seconds.
The three deputies involved in the shooting — Investigator Daniel Meads, Deputy Robert Morgan and Corporal Aaron Lewellyn — have been on leave since it happened. The sheriff’s office said Morgan is Black while Meads and Lewellyn are White.
Four others who were at the sceneafter the sheriff said they didn’t fire their weapons.
“Clearly they did not feel that their lives were endangered,” the Brown family’s attorneys said of the four deputies who didn’t shoot.
Anreleased by the family found that Brown was hit by bullets five times, including once in the back of the head. Lawyers for Brown’s family who watched say that it shows Brown was not armed and that he didn’t drive toward deputies or pose a threat to them. Womble has previously disagreed in court, saying that Brown struck deputies twice with his car before any shots were fired.
The sheriff has said his deputies weren’t injured.
The Brown family’s attorneys called for the release of the full bodycam video and the State Bureau of Investigation’s report on the shooting. The attorneys also called for the U.S. Department of Justice to “intervene immediately.”
The shooting sparked protests over multiple weeks by demonstrators calling for the public release of the footage. While authorities have shown footage to Brown’s family, a judgepending the state investigation.
Separately, the FBI hasof the shooting.