Activists Threaten Boycott After D.A. Says No Charges in Andrew Brown Jr. Death
Black Lives Matter protesters threatened with an "economic boycott" in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on Wednesday, after a local prosecutor announced that the deputies who shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr. last month while serving drug-related search and arrest warrants will not be charged.
Protesters reacted to Tuesday's announcement by Andrew Womble, elected district attorney for Judicial District 1, with a march from the Pasquotank Public Safety Building, where the anticipated news conference took place. Womble, whose district covers seven counties of the northeastern part of the state, said the April 21 shooting that killed Brown "while tragic, was justified."
For the economic boycott scheduled for Wednesday, protesters aim to not spend money in Pasquotank County in order to put pressure on Womble to call on a special prosecutor to take a second look at the investigation into Brown’s death, WAVY reported.
Pasquotank NAACP President Keith Rivers shot back that the deputies’ actions "were unjustifiable" in the shooting of Brown.
"If this is looked at through the lens of the victim, which is Andrew Brown Jr. and his family — and not the justification of the sheriff’s deputies actions — that this should go forth to a grand jury and let them decide whether or not it needs to be in the courts," Rivers told WAVY.
Video from Tuesday showed crowds of protesters shouting profanities and blowing car horns showed up outside the home of the former deputy police chief in Elizabeth City. A couple is seen standing on the front porch, with the woman videoing on her cellphone, as crowds shout at them, "racists."
The Elizabeth City Police Department, which was not involved in the law enforcement operation that killed Brown, warned of road closures Tuesday to prepare for expected "peaceful protests." Police said traffic may be redirected "around citizens exercising their constitutional right to a peaceful protest." Protesters later marched through the city and blocked intersections. Traffic was redirected from Camden Causeway Bridge.
Though both attorneys for the Brown family and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper called for a special prosecutor to take over the case, Womble said he was confident that he looked into the State Bureau of Investigation's findings in an unbiased manner before deciding not to charge the deputies.
"I'm elected by the people of the 1st Judicial District to do exactly this job. A special prosecutor or outside counsel is not accountable to the people of this judicial district. I am," Womble said. "I want the community to completely understand that the right to protest is certainly important. The need for information is important. The transparency aspect, accountability of my office. But in these particular cases I am basing the decision on the facts, the evidence and the law. And nothing else."
"Federal officials should continue to thoroughly investigate the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City," Cooper said in a statement Tuesday evening. "Our state should pass specific laws to increase transparency, confidence and accountability in the justice system."
Separately, the FBI has launched a civil rights probe of the shooting.
Womble, in playing out the body camera videos at the press conference, explained that Brown had ignored commands from law enforcement and a deputy who had tried to open the driver's side door of Brown's vehicle wound up partly on the hood as Brown backed up.
The deputy then found himself directly in the car's path when Brown then drove forward and had to slam his hand on the hood to avoid being run over. That’s when Womble said a different deputy fired the first shot that entered the front windshield.
"The simple act of starting the car, in violation of an officer's command, makes the car a dangerous deadly weapon that can be used at that point and officers can shoot," Womble said. "Federal courts have held that 'The Constitution simply does not require police to gamble with their lives in the face of serious threat of harm.'"
Multiple shots were then fired in rapid succession by the deputies. One shot entered the passenger window, striking Brown in shoulder, and several more entered the rear passenger side door and window.
Womble said there is no evidence that the number of shots fired by the deputies was excessive "but even if there are an excessive number of shots fired, the question is whether the perceived threat has been neutralized for the safety of the law enforcement officers present."
In response to Womble’s decision, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy S. Wooten, II said in a video statement that the three deputies involved will keep their jobs – but will be disciplined and retrained.
"While the district attorney decided that no criminal law was violated, this was a terrible and tragic outcome and we could do better," Wooten said. "Any person in any job makes decisions. In law enforcement, we have a high responsibility to everything we can to make the best decision."
In the aftermath of Brown’s death, Wooten had asked for outside investigators to assistant the sheriff office in their internal investigation into the shooting. The State Bureau of Investigation was also conducting an independent probe, by which Womble based his decision.
For the internal investigation, Wooten said four investigators from different counties were brought in and investigators from the sheriff’s office re-interviewed deputies involved. The sheriff also hired an independent use of force and tactical expert with more than 30 years of service, 1,000 operations under his belt and over 2,000 use of force reviews to review evidence in Brown’s shooting.
While his deputies did not break the law, Wooten noted areas where his office could do better: Two deputies did not turn on their body cameras while serving the search and arrest warrants on Brown. EMS was also supposed to be on standby near the scene – but Wooten said it would not have saved Brown’s life based on his injuries.
Going forward, the risk/threat assessment, which was discussed by deputies before executing the warrants in Brown’s case, must be standardized and put in writing every time in all future tactical operations, Wooten said. His deputies had more than 80 hours of SWAT specific training, but Wooten vowed to do better and bring in national experts to ensure his team has top notch training.
Addressing the Brown family, Wooten said "this should not have happened this way at all."
"While the deputies did not break the law, we all wish things could have gone differently. Much differently," the sheriff said. "I continue to pray for them and hope they will find peace."