Author: Adeel Hassan
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News
The killing of a 42-year-old Black man in coastal North Carolina by sheriff’s deputies is being scrutinized by state and federal authorities, and Gov. Roy Cooper has called for a special prosecutor to take over the case from a local district attorney.
Last week’s fatal shooting of the man, Andrew Brown Jr., while he was apparently driving away from deputies who were trying to execute drug-related search and arrest warrants, is drawing a lot of attention, coming so soon after the shooting deaths of Adam Toledo, 13, in Chicago and Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, in Columbus, Ohio.
Anger and frustration are mounting as Mr. Brown’s family, backed by public officials, seek the release of the body-camera footage of his final moments, and as the names of the officers involved remain shrouded in secrecy.
Here’s what we know about the death of Mr. Brown.
Just before 8:30 a.m. on April 21, a Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office truck drove down a residential street and arrived at a home with deputies sitting in the back, dressed in tactical gear, video footage shows. Moments later, several shots were fired at Mr. Brown. (The video was obtained by WAVY, a Virginia-based television station, through a public records request.)
A 20-second snippet of a deputy’s body-camera footage was released to Mr. Brown’s family and their lawyer, who called it an “execution.” A private autopsy, paid for by his family, showed that he was hit by five bullets and killed by a shot to the head.
The family’s lawyer said that Mr. Brown was sitting inside his car, hands “firmly on the wheel,” when gunshots were fired. He did not appear to be holding a weapon, and was driving away as the police continued shooting.
Have the police explained why they opened fire?
The Pasquotank County sheriff said that deputies had been executing an arrest warrant on felony drug charges, but he did not reveal how many deputies were on the scene, how many of them opened fire, and how many rounds were fired. The shooting is being investigated by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
The local version of a SWAT team, as well as deputies from another agency, were executing the arrest warrant when Mr. Brown was shot, the authorities said. Only a small share of officer-involved fatalities occur in these raids. But in a country where four in 10 adults have guns in their homes, they are the most combustible, and the police often use major shows of force to take these actions.
Mr. Brown’s family was told that no drugs or weapons had been retrieved from the property or the car, their lawyer said last week. And their legal team has not yet seen the search warrant that officials say was being executed at the time of the shooting.
Why hasn’t the body-camera footage been released?
In North Carolina, police body-camera videos can be released to the public only with a judge’s approval. Anyone may request the release of a video, though some stakeholders can object to its release or ask for sections to be blurred, said Frayda Bluestein, a professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina.
The sheriff said that he wants body-camera video made public, and the county lawyer has filed a petition for the release of the videos.
A hearing on whether to release the body-camera footage was scheduled for Wednesday morning. The judge hearing the petition, filed by the sheriff’s office, was also expected to consider a separate petition requesting the release of the videos filed by a group of news media outlets, including The New York Times.
On Tuesday, Governor Cooper, a Democrat, also called for the video’s release. While some body-camera footage is released almost immediately, it’s not unusual for there to be a delay in the release.
What happened to the officers involved?
Seven sheriff’s deputies have been placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, in an office that has 55 full-time deputies. We don’t know the names of those involved.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced Tuesday that it was starting a civil rights investigation into the shooting by the agency’s Charlotte field office, which will work with federal prosecutors and the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
What has the reaction been in the community?
Elizabeth City is a historic town of about 18,000 people in the northeast corner of the state. Its mayor and its police chief are Black, as are 50 percent of its residents. There have been peaceful demonstrations there since the day of the shooting. Residents have been demanding that body-camera footage be released to the public. On Tuesday, though, officials in Elizabeth City and surrounding Pasquotank County established curfews from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“I feel like we are targeted,” said Councilman Gabriel Adkins, who was wearing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt while speaking at a City Council meeting last week.
“I’m afraid as a Black man walking around in this city, driving my car down the road, trying to make sure that I’m driving the speed limit, trying to make sure that I wear my seatbelt, trying to make sure that I do everything right, because I don’t want an officer to get behind me.”
What can we expect to happen next?
All eyes will be on Wednesday morning’s hearing on whether to release the body-camera footage. Separately, Mr. Cooper has called for a special prosecutor to take over the case, which belongs to the local district attorney for now.
A funeral will be held Monday for Mr. Brown in Elizabeth City, with the Rev. Al Sharpton delivering the eulogy.