ELIZABETH CITY — The district attorney for Pasquotank County will not bring criminal charges against sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City — a move likely to increase tension and protest over police violence.
District Attorney Andrew Womble announced the news while discussing the state’s investigation at a news conference in the county’s public safety building Tuesday.
Womble said Brown’s death “while tragic, was justified” because his actions caused three deputies to “reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others.”
Brown died April 21 after being shot by sheriff’s deputies who came to his house to serve arrest and search warrants related to drug charges.
Law enforcement involvement began in the weeks prior to the shooting when a detective with the Dare County Sheriff’s Office received information from a reliable confidential source that Brown was selling drugs in Dare County, Womble said. The detective contacted Pasquotank County and confirmed Brown’s identity and that he was a known drug dealer, Womble said.
The two felony arrest warrants for the sale of controlled substances and search warrants came as a result of undercover buys from Brown of cocaine and heroin that was laced with fentanyl, Womble said.
The morning of the incident, the deputies were briefed on Brown’s criminal history and interactions with law enforcement, Womble said. He noted Brown’s resisting arrest charges and convictions for assault, assault with deadly weapon and assault inflicting serious injury convictions dating back to 1995.
Brown was sitting in his car in his driveway, attempting to flee, when he was shot by deputies who arrived at the scene in full tactical gear.
Womble described a 44-second encounter in which seven deputies blocked Brown in his driveway, trying to serve the warrants. Brown ignored orders to raise his hands and get out of his car, and he struck a deputy twice while trying to escape, Womble said.
“Deputies immediately perceived a threat,” the district attorney said, adding, “The Constitution simply does not require officers to gamble with their lives.”
The officers used deadly force when “a violent felon used a deadly weapon to place their lives in danger,” Womble said.
Seven deputies were placed on administrative leave following the incident. Since then, Sheriff Tommy Wooten said a preliminary investigation showed three officers fired their weapons and the other four are back on active duty.
A private autopsy commissioned by Brown’s family showed he was hit by at least five bullets, with the fatal wound from a shot into the back of his head.
The shooting sparked peaceful protests in the city, with local residents marching alongside activists from across North Carolina and the nation. Protesters have demanded that the video footage from deputies’ body cameras and a police vehicle’s dash camera be made public.
The official requests were initially denied by a judge but could be reconsidered following the outcome of the state’s investigation. Brown’s family and an attorney were allowed to view a portion of the footage under that judge’s order.
It’s customary in North Carolina for the State Bureau of Investigation to look into shootings by law enforcement. The agency then turns over its findings to the local district attorney to determine whether charges are warranted.
In a tweet on April 28, a week after the shooting, SBI Director Robert L. Shurmeier promised that “the full resources of the NC SBI are being utilized to pursue an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the matter of Mr. Brown’s death. The family, the community, and all impacted by this event deserve no less,” he wrote.
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