Update May 7 at 1:46 p.m.: A judge ruled Thursday that Andrew Brown Jr.'s family will only be able to view less than 20 minutes of the almost two hours of footage captured before and after Brown was killed.
“The portions of the videos withheld are found to not contain images of the deceased, and thus are not appropriate for disclosure at this time,” Judge Jeffery Foster wrote in a statement.
Disclosure of the footage to the family has to be released within 10 days, Foster wrote.
A 20-second clip was the last goodbye Andrew Brown Jr.’s family had after his death last week.
And on Wednesday, a local judge denied the release of the remaining footage to the media.
Brown was sitting behind the wheel of his car at his Elizabeth City home when local officers opened fire on him the morning of April 21. The officers killed Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, who did not appear to be holding a weapon.
On Monday, the family and one of their attorneys, Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, viewed the only body camera footage officials are releasing at this time: one 20-second clip of Brown’s death. The family's private autopsy results, released Tuesday, showed Brown being shot a total five times – four times in his right arm, and a fatal shot in the back of the head.
“Here’s the thing, when the first second of the video started, they were already at the driveway out of the truck shooting,” Cherry-Lassiter said. “So what happened before that, we don’t know.”
On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster explained to the court that there were four body cameras rolling and one dash camera.
Amanda Martin and Mike Tadych, two of the attorneys representing the media petitioning for the release of the video – which includes The Daily Tar Heel – said in a statement they were disappointed in the outcome of the hearing.
"If the media don’t have standing to petition the court for release of law enforcement video, the general public does not either," they said. "We believe that is legally incorrect."
Martin and Tadych said they will review the judge's written order when they receive it and decide how to appeal it.
Other local and state officials expressed disappointment in the decision.
“I do not believe the Superior Court Judge’s decision to delay the release of body camera footage showing the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. is in the interest of justice,” U.S. Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) tweeted after the hearing. “The people of Elizabeth City and of North Carolina deserve to know the truth.”
“I wanted the body camera footage to be released to the public as soon as possible, and I'm disappointed it won't happen immediately,” Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said in a Wednesday statement.
The footage will be released to Brown's son, Khalil Ferebee, the attorney representing the victim and other family within one degree of kinship in the next 10 days. In the meantime, the court will censor certain conversations and identities in the video that it says jeopardize ongoing investigation.
Wooten said independent investigations are pending, and as soon as he receives all the facts, he will act quickly to ensure accountability and transparency with the public.
Cherry-Lassiter said the 20-second clip she saw showed Brown crashing his car into a tree. She said no one knows what happened after that. Access to more footage beyond the one body camera clip would give greater insight to the family and attorneys about what happened, she said.
Local deputies had arrived that morning to serve Brown search and arrest warrants on drug charges. Based on street camera footage published by WAVY News, there appeared to be a F-150 pickup truck with an unknown number of officers headed to Brown’s residence.
Since the shooting, seven deputies have been put on administrative leave, two have resigned and one has retired, Cherry-Lassiter said.
“I was actually very sad, because I didn’t think I was going to see him just sitting in his car with his hands on the steering wheel,” Cherry-Lassiter said. “We saw him backing up, the whole time trying to avoid the officer that was shooting at him.”
The shooting of Brown by police came the day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, whose death sparked international protests against racism and police brutality. Other shootings of Black individuals, including 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant and Tory Casey, have occurred in the wake of the conviction, reinvigorating conversations about racism in policing and changing policies at both the local and national level.
“We’re definitely trying to get policies changed. That’s one of the goals because there’s a lot of misinterpretation,” Cherry-Lassiter said. “They told us they would show us the pertinent parts of the video, but they decided what the pertinent parts were.”
Law enforcement agencies have shut down and restricted protests that are in solidarity with Brown and other victims of police brutality across the state. Protesters in Elizabeth City defied a county-wide state of emergency and were dispersed by the police on Tuesday, the evening before the body camera hearing.
On Sunday, supporters in the Triangle attended a vigil for Brown and Bryant.
Cherry-Lassiter, native to Pasquotank County, said she grew up watching injustices such as Brown’s shooting being quietly pushed aside for years.
“From what I’ve seen, a lot of times people go through stuff and deal with stuff and they don’t report it, or they report it and nothing happens,” she said. “So hopefully we have enough light to shine on this situation that something will be done about it. That’s my hope, but you never know.”
Enough light that maybe protests, like the one in Raleigh for Brown and Bryant, won’t be shut down because protestors were walking in the street.
Or enough change that the family of Andrew Brown won’t have to watch his last 20 seconds in a sterile county office room, on a loop for 45 minutes.
DTH staff writer David Richman contributed reporting.
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