ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. >> A Black man killed by deputies in North Carolina was shot in the back of the head and had his hands on his car steering wheel when they opened fire, attorneys for his family said today after relatives viewed body camera footage.
The account was the first description of the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr., who was killed by deputies serving drug-related search and arrest warrants. His death last Wednesday led to nightly protests and demands for justice in the town of Elizabeth City. Authorities have released few details, and the video has not been made public.
Attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter watched a 20-second portion of body camera video with Brown’s family. Lassiter said Brown did not appear to be a threat to officers as he backed his vehicle out of his driveway and tried to drive away from deputies with guns drawn.
“There was no time in the 20 seconds that we saw where he was threatening the officers in any kind of way,” she told reporters at a news conference.
When asked whether Brown was shot in the back, attorney Harry Daniels said, “Yes, back of the head.”
An eyewitness account and emergency scanner traffic had previously indicated Brown was shot in the back as he tried to drive away.
“My dad got executed just by trying to save his own life,” said Brown’s adult son Khalil Ferebee, who watched the video.
Lassiter, who watched the video multiple times and took notes, said the shooting started as soon as the video began and that she lost count of the number of gunshots fired by law enforcement officers armed with rifles and handguns. She said she counted as many as eight deputies in the video, some wearing tactical uniforms and some in plainclothes.
“They’re shooting and saying ‘Let me see your hands’ at the same time,” she said. She added: “Let’s be clear. This was an execution.”
The family’s lawyers were also angry about what they described as rude treatment by Pasquotank County Attorney R. Michael Cox, to whom they attributed the decision to limit the amount of footage shown. They criticized authorities for sharing only 20 seconds of video from a single body camera.
“They’re trying to hide something,” attorney Benjamin Crump said.
Attorney Bakari Sellers said Cox used profanity toward him. “I’ve never been talked to like I was talked to in there,” Sellers said.
Cox did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II has said that multiple deputies fired shots. Seven deputies are on leave pending a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation.
In a video statement, the sheriff said today that Cox had filed a request to have the video released, which in North Carolina must be authorized by a judge. He asked for patience while the State Bureau of Investigation probes the case.
“This tragic incident was quick and over in less than 30 seconds, and body cameras are shaky and sometimes hard to decipher. They only tell part of the story,” he said.
Earlier today, a search warrant was released that indicated investigators had recorded Brown selling small amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine to an informant. Crump argued that authorities were trying to release negative information about Brown while shielding themselves by holding back the video.
The warrant was sought by Wooten’s office and signed by a judge to allow the search of Brown’s Elizabeth City home. It said that an investigator in nearby Dare County was told by the informant that the person had been purchasing crack cocaine and other drugs from Brown for over a year. The informant described purchasing drugs at the house that was the target of the search.
In March, narcotics officers used the informant to conduct controlled purchases of methamphetamine and cocaine from Brown on two separate occasions, according to the warrant, which said both drug transactions were recorded using audio and video equipment.
The search warrant said investigators believed Brown was storing drugs in the home or two vehicles. The document, which indicated the search was not completed, did not list anything found.
Two arrest warrants released last week charged him with possession with intent to sell and deliver 3 grams of each of the drugs.
Calls have been growing to release the body camera footage. A coalition of media organizations have sought the footage, and city officials plan to do so as well.
Short of releasing it publicly, state law allows law enforcement to show body camera video privately to a victim’s family.
Also today, Elizabeth City officials declared a state of emergency amid concerns about how demonstrators would react to a possible video release. Protests since the shooting in the eastern North Carolina town of about 18,000 have generally been peaceful.
Danielle McCalla, who grew up in Elizabeth City before recently moving to Virginia, joined demonstrators who came to watch the news conference by the family attorneys. She said it left her in tears.
“As soon as they started going into details, I started crying,” she said. McCalla, 30, said she met Brown and had several conversations with him, making her sad about what’s happening in her hometown and about police shootings elsewhere.
“It’s the same thing that keeps happening,” she said. “It’s a bigger monster than we think it is.”
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