'Release the tapes': Protesters demand footage after Sheriff identified deputies involved in fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr.

Ryan W. Miller, Rachel Berry, Dean-Paul Stephens, Joel Shannon, Alison Cutler and Ayano Nagaishi, USA TODAY NETWORK
·7 min read

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. – Protests continued Thursday hours after Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten released the names of seven deputies involved in the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. on April 21.

All seven were placed on administrative leave after the shooting, but a review of body-camera footage shows four of the deputies never fired a weapon, Wooten said in the release. Those deputies have been reinstated to active duty.

“More investigation is necessary into the three deputies who did fire their weapons and they will remain on administrative leave pending completion of the internal investigation and/or the criminal investigation being conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation," Wooten says in the release.

Andrew Brown Jr. was shot five times — including once in the back of his head, a family-backed autopsy showed — as deputies were serving search and arrest warrants at Brown's home in Elizabeth City.

The seven deputies identified by Wooten:

  • Investigator Daniel Meads (on administrative leave)

  • Deputy Sheriff II Robert Morgan (on administrative leave)

  • Cpl. Aaron Lewellyn (on administrative leave)

  • Lt. Steven Judd (active duty)

  • Sgt. Michael Swindell (active duty)

  • Sgt. Kenneth Bishop (active duty)

  • Sgt. Joel Lunsford (active duty)

Here's what we know Thursday:

'Release the tapes,' protesters chant

Elizabeth City's police department on Thursday said it had issued a "violation warning" as a group of about 50 people gathered after the city's curfew. It marked the ninth night of peaceful protests in the city.

Elizabeth City Councilor Gabriel Adkins earlier asked protestors to respect the city's 8 p.m. curfew: "If you choose to stay out, stay out of the road." He said he hoped the city could lift that curfew as soon as Friday.

While police previously targeted journalists for enforcement after curfew, the city on Thursday clarified that working journalists would not be subject to the curfew, according to a letter from William H. Morgan, Jr., Elizabeth City's attorney.

Among the chants heard in the streets Thursday evening: "Release the tapes — the whole tapes" and “You can’t hide, you committed homicide.”

Ikisha Brothers said it was important for her to be a part of the protest. She went to school with Brown and said it was heartbreaking how the past week has unfolded.

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More than anything, Brothers said she wants the tapes released for the family.

Before dusk Thursday, a group of protesters stopped at yards away from where Brown was shot. They held a moment of silence broken only by the rumble of truck engines as supporters followed behind.

The silence ended as a voice in the crowd shouted, “Say his name.”

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When will a judge reconsider whether to release bodycam video?

Brown's family will be allowed to view more bodycam footage of his death within 10 days, a judge ruled after deciding not to release the videos publicly.

Judge Jeff Foster said Wednesday that he would reconsider arguments over whether to release the footage after a State Bureau of Investigation inquiry is complete and the district attorney can make a decision on potential charges.

Foster's decision not to release the video drew condemnation from attorneys representing Brown's family. Lawyers for a coalition of media organizations that sought the release said they'd consider an appeal after reading Foster's full written order.

A funeral for Brown is scheduled for Monday. Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy.

Foster said he would reconsider whether to release the footage within 30 to 45 days. District Attorney Andrew Womble said he believes the State Bureau of Investigation, which is overseeing an independent inquiry into the shooting, will be able to complete its work, and that he can make any potential charging decisions within that time.

Foster said he was not releasing the footage out of caution, to prevent any potential threat to a fair and impartial trial if charges were to be brought. He said release now could also threaten the safety of those seen in the footage.

Why so few details on Brown's death? Police are fueling outrage over Andrew Brown Jr.’s death by withholding information, experts say

A Pasquotank County attorney petitioned to have the footage released to Brown's family on behalf of the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office. Wooten said he was disappointed that the video wouldn't be released immediately, but that he would respect the judge's ruling.

"Although we’re unable to show the public what happened right now, the independent investigators are working to complete their investigation," Wooten said. "As soon as all of the important facts are given to me, I will act quickly to ensure accountability and I’ll be as transparent as I possibly can with the public."

Foster said Brown's family must be allowed to view the footage within 10 days, however. Faces and identification badges of the deputies involved will be blurred, and some sections may be cut.

A coalition of news media organizations, including Gannett, the parent company of USA TODAY, petitioned to have the footage released, too.

Foster ruled that the media did not have standing to have the video released to them.

"If the media don’t have standing to petition the court for release of law enforcement video, the general public does not either. We believe that is legally incorrect," Mike Tadych and Amanda Martin, attorneys representing the coalition, said in a statement. "We will review the judge’s written order when we receive it and decide at that point how best to appeal it immediately."

A child holds a Black Lives Matter flag during an eighth night of protest in Elizabeth City, N.C., after a judge ruled Wednesday not to release bodycam footage of sheriff's deputies fatally shooting Andrew Brown Jr.
A child holds a Black Lives Matter flag during an eighth night of protest in Elizabeth City, N.C., after a judge ruled Wednesday not to release bodycam footage of sheriff's deputies fatally shooting Andrew Brown Jr.

Brown family attorney, district attorney offer different accounts of bodycam

Brown's family on Monday viewed a partial, edited clip of body camera video of the shooting.

After viewing the video with the family, attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter said it showed Brown with his hands on the steering wheel of his car and not a threat to deputies.

"They run up to his vehicle shooting," Cherry-Lassiter said. "He finally decides to try to get away and he backs out, not going toward the officers at all."

Womble called Cherry-Lassiter's account "patently false."

Judge rules not to release bodycam: Bodycam video will not be released for now in Andrew Brown Jr. fatal shooting; family allowed to see more footage, judge rules

"As it backs up, it does make contact with law enforcement officers,” Womble said. The car stops again, according to Womble, and, “the next movement of the car is forward. It is in the direction of law enforcement and makes contact with law enforcement. It is then and only then that you hear shots.”

Cherry-Lassiter stood by her comments after the hearing.

Harry Daniels, another attorney for Brown’s family, said the discrepancy shows why the video should be public.

In a statement after Foster's decision not to release the footage, the family's attorneys said they were disappointed.

"In this modern civil rights crisis where we see Black people killed by the police everywhere we look, video evidence is the key to discerning the truth and getting well-deserved justice for victims of senseless murders," the attorneys said.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called for a special prosecutor to handle the case and any decision on potential criminal charges, and the FBI's Charlotte field office said it had opened a civil rights investigation into Brown's death.

Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Andrew Brown Jr. shooting: Sheriff releases names of 7 deputies