Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten says daily protests over his deputies’ fatally shooting Andrew Brown Jr. “hinder the lives of our citizens” and that he will stop helping to patrol them.
Citizens have marched in Elizabeth City since Brown’s death on April 21. In a public letter Wednesday, Wooten noted that two months have passed and the time has come to return to normal starting Saturday.
“The First Amendment provides the right to peaceably assemble,” he wrote, “however, it does not provide the right to block roadways nor does it provide the right to a law enforcement escort.”
Brown, 42, died while speeding away from his house as deputies tried to serve arrest and search warrants after a lengthy drug investigation. Medical examiners concluded the fatal wound struck him in the back of the head as he attempted to flee.
DA called shooting ‘justified’
District Attorney Andrew Womble called the shooting “justified” because deputies feared Brown would strike them with his car, and he declined to charge any of them.
Protesters took to the streets on the night of April 21, marching up busy Ehringhaus Street and blocking intersections there. They continued in the days following Brown’s death despite Elizabeth City’s curfew, resulting in many arrests as deputies and city officers responded in tactical gear.
Protesters have gathered daily outside the law enforcement center downtown and marched throughout the city, always escorted by both city and county officers. At a rally earlier this month, leaders of that movement noted that several marchers have been struck by cars while protesting Brown’s death.
Numbers of protesters fluctuates
Elizabeth City Manager Montre Freeman said Thursday that protests fluctuate, drawing between 20 and 200 people depending on the day. City officers will continue to escort them, he said.
“We all remember what happened in Charlottesville and I pray every day that doesn’t happen here,” he said, recalling the woman killed by a car that rammed into her during an anti-racism protest.
He said Wooten’s decision would have an impact but he declined to comment on the sheriff’s move.
In his letter, Wooten said his office has received tremendous support, for which he is thankful.
“I would also like to thank those who offered constructive criticism,” he said. “Your message has not fallen on deaf ears.”