The family of Andrew Brown Jr. will be able to see a portion of the body cam footage Tuesday that shows the moments when sheriff’s deputies shot and killed the Elizabeth City man while serving warrants at his home.
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said in a statement Friday that his office agreed to show the videos to the Brown family on Tuesday, which they suggested, the Associated Press reported. The family’s attorneys will help arrange the specific time and location of the viewing, Wooten said.
In a written order filed late Thursday, Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster said the family should be allowed to view the video by next weekend — within 10 days of his filing the order. During a court hearing on April 28, Foster denied a request by the family, the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office and a coalition of media organizations to make the footage of Brown’s shooting public.
Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies were serving search and arrest warrants for drug-related charges at Brown’s home on April 21 when they shot and killed him in his car shortly before 8:30 a.m. An autopsy commissioned by his family showed he was struck several times, including once in the back of the head. Brown’s death has sparked weeks of peaceful protests in the small town of about 18,000 about 165 miles from Raleigh.
An FBI spokesperson told The News & Observer that the agency has launched a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death, and the sheriff’s office says three deputies involved in the shooting remain on administrative leave amid a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation.
Body-worn cameras carried by Pasquotank County deputies captured the shooting, and both Brown’s family and the sheriff’s office have called for public release of the footage.
Law enforcement agencies can show the footage to certain people, including family members of those killed on camera.
That’s what happened days after the killing in Elizabeth City, when the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office screened about 20 seconds of one of the dash cam videos for members of Brown’s family.
But under North Carolina law, police and sheriff’s departments cannot unilaterally publish or provide copies of video from body-worn or dashboard cameras. Instead, they must petition a court and ask a judge to order their release.
The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office filed that petition last week, asking Foster for an order to provide copies of videos from all of the cameras to Khalil Ferebee, one of Brown’s sons. In court on April 28, County Attorney Mike Cox argued for publication of the footage for both the family and the media, which filed its own petition to get the video.
Foster’s written decision largely matches the verbal order he issued from the bench: Although he said the family can’t have copies of the footage, he said portions of the videos should be shown to them with the faces of officers blurred.
But Foster’s order does not specify, as he did in court, that he’ll revisit release of the videos after 30 to 45 days. That would give the district attorney time to decide whether any criminal charges were appropriate. Instead, he leaves that timeline vague.
“Nothing in this Order shall prevent the reconsideration for release of the videos at a later time, upon the conclusion of both internal and criminal investigations arising from these incidents,” Foster wrote.
In court, District Attorney Andrew Womble, as well as attorney H.P. Williams on behalf of several unnamed clients, argued for such a delay to provide time to complete an ongoing probe by the SBI.
“I am putting (the SBI) under an incredible time crunch by asking this request for them to be finished in 30 days,” Womble told the judge on April 28. “I feel very comfortable that they can do that.”
Foster’s order leaves another thing unclear whether he meant for the family to get copies of one of the videos.
His decision notes five videos, four of which “shall be disclosed” to the family. Under state law, “disclosure” means a recording is made available for viewing. Although those files total almost two hours of video, the order allows the family to see about 20 minutes of footage combined.
But one video — a three-minute long file — “shall be released in its entirety” to the family. North Carolina’s body camera law says “release” means that an agency must provide copies.
A spokesperson with the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office, which is subject to the judge’s order, said in an email Friday that it is consulting with the county attorney for clarification.
Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, one of the Brown family’s attorneys, said the family’s legal team is also discussing next steps, but she noted that she’s concerned there’s still much of the video the family won’t be allowed to see.
“They’re determining what parts to show, which is not complete transparency,” she said.
Attorneys for the media coalition say a written order for their own petition, which separately asked Foster to release the video to the public, had not yet been filed at the Pasquotank County courthouse as of Friday afternoon.
In court, Foster denied that petition on the grounds that the media didn’t have standing to ask for the video’s release.
News & Observer reporter Kate Murphy contributed to this story.