The district attorney announced the use of deadly force was "justified" Tuesday in the death of Andrew Brown, Jr. on April 21.
District Attorney Andrew Womble said at a news conference that Brown used his car as a "deadly weapon," causing Pasquotank County deputies to believe it was necessary to use deadly force. Womble, who acknowledged Brown wasn't armed with guns or other weapons, said the deputies will face no criminal charges after he reviewed a state investigation of what happened.
Brown's family released a statement calling Womble's decision "both an insult and a slap in the face."
Womble said a search warrant was obtained following multiple undercover drug buys that when tested, also contained fentanyl in March.
The original plan was to serve the warrant the night of April 20, but Brown could not be found, Womble said. The next morning, a meeting took place where deputies were told that Brown had several previous resisting arrest charges and assault charges in order to prepare them for the possibility of resistance, according to Womble.
Womble said the morning of the warrant, Brown was in a car outside of the residence and six deputies attempted to open the door while shouting commands. Womble said commands were not listened to, and the car was put into drive toward law enforcement officers. He noted as the car moved directly toward one of the deputies, the first shot was fired into the front windshield and a deputy spun out of the way to avoid being run over. Womble added that several shots continued, entering the vehicle from the side and rear windows as the vehicle headed toward a sergeant.
"I find that the facts of this case clearly illustrate the officers who used deadly force on Andrew Brown Jr. did so reasonably and only when a violent felon used a deadly weapon to put their lives in danger," Womble said, referring to Brown's car. He added that "Brown posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and others."
Though Womble said at least two deputies were endangered by Brown's driving, the sheriff has said his deputies weren't injured.
Womble said all of the following could be seen in body camera footage, which Womble showed from four deputies. The video will not be released to the public, but was showed and broadcasted during the press conference.
Reporters and others who asked questions during the press conference asked multiple times why the video seemed to show the car turning way from the officers, which was different from how Womble explained the situation.
The district attorney did not answer these questions and said he hopes people look at the facts and know that people will see what they want and hope to see, and until you break things down frame-by-frame, some things are hard to see.
"There were falsehoods made and you can draw whatever inference you want," Womble said.
Emergency medical services were requested for Brown minutes after the altercation, Womble said. This entire interaction took 44 seconds and the total time from the first shot to the last was five seconds, he said.
The autopsy and toxicology reports have not been finalized at this time, Womble said. But the preliminary findings showed Brown was shot twice: a non-lethal shot in the arm and a lethal shot to the back of the neck. Multiple shrapnel grazings were also found. The cause of death was found to be multiple gunshot wounds, according to the medical examiner.
An independent autopsy ruled Brown was shot five times.
In a statement released a couple of hours after the news conference, attorneys for Brown's families decried Womble's conclusion.
"To say this shooting was justified, despite the known facts, is both an insult and a slap in the face to Andrew's family, the Elizabeth City community, and to rational people everywhere," the statement said. "Not only was the car moving away from officers, but four of them did not fire their weapons — clearly they did not feel that their lives were endangered. And the bottom line is that Andrew was killed by a shot to the back of the head."
Womble said Brown acted consistent with his history with law enforcement by resisting arrest and a law enforcement officer should not gamble with their lives.
Womble said when weighing the degree of force used, the district attorney must not look at hindsight, because it is important to understand the quick-thinking law enforcement officers must use in order to protect themselves and others in a reasonable way.
Reporters and others in the press conference asked multiple times why deputies could not leave the situation to diffuse it and arrest Brown at another time. Womble said this was not what they were sworn to do.
"The law enforcement officers were duty-bound to stand their ground," Womble said.
The district attorney said he was not taking public opinion into account for this decision, but did recognize people's right to protest and the First Amendment.
Womble noted that he did not speak with the family before he gave this press conference because of the strained relationship between them. The Brown family asked Womble to recuse himself from the investigation.
The SBI released the following statement in response to the press conference:
"As announced earlier this morning, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble has decided not to bring criminal charges against the law enforcement officers involved in the shooting death of Andrew Brown, Jr. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation's (NC SBI) role in this case, as in all other criminal investigations, was to investigate the facts surrounding the incident and to then provide those facts to the prosecutor. During the course of this investigation, the NC SBI interviewed numerous witnesses, conducted crime scene analysis, collected and reviewed video footage, and engaged in other investigative activities in an attempt to conduct as thorough and complete an investigation as possible in a timely manner. After providing the facts to the District Attorney, it was his duty to apply the law to those facts to make the ultimate decision about whether criminal charges were appropriate. The NC SBI does not make any determinations as to whether criminal charges should be filed and/or determine if a person's actions are justified or not. Furthermore, in its role as impartial fact-finder, it is not the NC SBI's place to agree or disagree with any prosecutor's decision regarding an investigation.
"Even though a decision has now been made by the District Attorney, the NC SBI file is still not considered a public record under NCGS 132-1.4 and may only be released pursuant to a court order. Therefore, the NC SBI will not be releasing any written reports regarding the investigation. In addition, any decisions regarding the release of video footage will continue to be made by the court in accordance with NCGS 132-1.4A. As stated earlier, the NC SBI supports transparency to the greatest extent possible allowed by the law, as we think this serves the interests of the citizens of North Carolina."
This conference comes one week after the Brown family and their attorney were allowed to watch less than 20 minutes of the video of the deadly shooting.
The Brown family attorney, Chance Lynch, said Brown was not a threat to any law enforcement officer, contradicting what Womble told a judge during a court hearing three weeks ago, leading to the ruling that only the family could see parts of the video.
Brown's shooting has led to weeks of protests in North Carolina and a curfew that has since been lifted in Pasquotank County and Elizabeth City.
The shooting is currently being investigated by the FBI to see whether Brown's civil rights were violated.