North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is recommending a special prosecutor take over the investigation into Andrew Brown Jr.’s shooting death.
But District Attorney Andrew Womble, whose office will review all findings from law enforcement investigations into Brown’s fatal shooting by Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies, indicated Tuesday he has no plans to turn over the case to someone else.
In a press release, Cooper said he thought appointing a special prosecutor in Brown’s shooting would be in the “interest of justice” and provide “confidence in the judicial system.”
“This would help assure the community and Mr. Brown’s family that a decision on pursuing criminal charges is conducted without bias,” said Cooper, a former attorney general for the state.
Cooper said his call for a special prosecutor in Brown’s shooting is “consistent” with a change in state law recommended by the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which he said calls for a special prosecutor in police shootings.
Cooper’s call for a special prosecutor in Brown’s officer-involved shooting comes as the Charlotte field office of the FBI announced Tuesday it has opened a civil rights investigation into the case. The FBI said in a statement that its agents planned to work closely with the U.S. Department of Justice “to determine whether federal laws were violated.”
Because of the investigation, a spokeswoman declined further comment.
Attorney General Josh Stein also released a statement Tuesday saying that his office is ready to provide assistance in the investigation of Brown’s shooting – but Womble would first have to request his assistance.
“A number of people have asked me to take over this prosecution,” Stein said. “I want to clarify that under North Carolina law, the District Attorney, not the Attorney General, controls the prosecution of criminal cases. For my office to play a role in the prosecution, the District Attorney must request our assistance.”
Stein said his office has reached out to Womble to offer that assistance, “which he has acknowledged.”
Womble couldn’t be reached by phone but in an emailed statement he said the duties of district attorney are spelled out in state law at NCGS 7A-61.
“They include but are not limited to charging decisions regarding potential criminal conduct within the prosecutorial district,” he said. “I stand ready, willing and able to fulfill my statutory obligations and well as my Oath of Office for the people of the First Judicial District.”
The Rev. William Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach and a former president of the N.C. State Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said state authorities need to take over the case.
“We call on the powers of the state to take over this case and to take it over now,” Barber said.
He said local authorities, including Sheriff Tommy Wooten and Womble, “have proven themselves to be incapable, inept and incompetent.”
Barber said the clergy gathered at Mt. Lebanon A.M.E. Zion Church Tuesday stand together to say they want the case to be turned over to Stein.
“We speak with one voice,” Barber said.
Barber drew attention to the racial diversity and denominational diversity of the clergy gathered at the church and said it sends an important message about change in North Carolina and the South.
“This is not the Old South,” Barber said. “This is the New South rising.”
Bishop Kenneth Monroe, presiding bishop of the Eastern North Carolina Episcopal District of the A.M.E. Zion Church, said all 310 congregations of the A.M.E. Zion Church together are calling on accountability for the actions of officers that took Brown’s life.
Monroe said he joins with other Christian voices across the state in asking that Brown’s life not be forgotten.
The Rev. Anthony Spearman, president of the N.C. NAACP, said Womble has not returned calls from the NAACP and has been “operating like some modern-day Wizard of Oz.”
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