(ELIZABETH CITY, N.C.) — A judge has denied a request from a North Carolina county sheriff and multiple media outlets to immediately release the body camera videos purporting to show sheriff’s deputies fatally shooting Andrew Brown, a 42-year-old Black man.
Pasquotank County Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster issued his ruling after hearing arguments for and against releasing the videos, including a plea from the local district attorney to reject the request because it could jeopardize the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation’s ongoing probe of the deadly April 21 confrontation outside Brown’s home in Elizabeth City.
While Foster said the videos will not be publicly released, he found that Brown’s family, specifically his adult son, Khalil Ferebee, should be allowed to see all of the footage. But he wants at least 30 days to pass to give investigators time to complete their probe. The judge ordered that all faces and other potentially identifying features such as badges and name tags be blurred out in the footage.
Pasquotank County authorities informed Foster that there are four different body camera videos and a police dash-cam video that capture the shooting.
Foster asked the state to notify the court as soon as its investigation is complete and said he would again reconsider Wooten’s request to publicly release the videos. But he said that decision will be “based on the factors as they exist at that time.”
Brown’s family and their attorneys issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed” by the judge’s decision.
“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 family’s statement reads. “Just look at the murder of George Floyd — if the world had not seen that clear and disturbing footage, there might not have even been an ounce of accountability for those officers. We refuse to be discouraged and vow to keep the pressure on these agencies until we get to the truth. We will not stop saying his name. Andrew Brown Jr.”
Seven Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputies involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave. Their names have not been released.
Foster’s order came as Brown’s family and their attorneys held news conferences on Monday and Tuesday demanding transparency in the investigation and that all of the body camera footage, law enforcement dash-cam video and any security camera footage be immediately released to the public.
The family expressed outrage that they were only shown a 20-second clip of the shooting on Monday.
Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble disputed an account given by an attorney for Brown’s family who viewed the short video on Monday and told reporters during a news conference that Brown was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car that was stationary when sheriff’s deputies arrived and immediately opened fire on him.
Womble told Foster that Brown’s car made contact with deputies twice before shots could be heard on the footage.
“As it backs up, it does make contact with law enforcement officers,” Womble said.
He said Brown’s car did stop briefly but then started to “move 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,” Womble said.
Judge Foster said that while the public release of the videos “would advance a compelling public interest,” he listed seven factors for not releasing the footage.
He said the videos contain confidential information that is exempt from disclosure under state and federal laws and if made public could reveal “information regarding a person that is of a highly-sensitive and personal nature.” He said the release of the videos could also harm the reputations and jeopardize the safety of individuals seen in the footage.
He also said the release of the videos “would create a serious threat to the fair and impartial, and orderly administration of justice.”
“Confidentiality is necessary at this point to protect an active internal and criminal investigation or potential internal and criminal investigation,” Foster said.
The judge considered two petitions, one from more than 20 news media organizations and another from Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II on behalf of Ferebee, who was among those allowed to view a snippet of the video.
Foster first denied the request from news organizations, saying the media had no standing in the case because it is “not a person requesting or seeking to obtain evidence to determine legal issues in a current or potential court proceeding.”
The shooting unfolded around 8:30 a.m. on April 21 when deputies from Pasquotank and Dare Counties went to Brown’s home to attempt to serve an arrest warrant on Brown that stemmed from a felony drug investigation, officials said.
Attorneys for Brown’s family said Brown was shot four times in the right arm and shoulder and once in the back of the head based on an independent autopsy they commissioned.
Wooten declined to say how many deputies discharged their weapons.
H.P. Williams, an attorney identified as representing the deputies involved in the incident, said his clients oppose the release of the video out of concern for their own safety. In addressing the court, William said he was speaking on behalf of several other attorneys and their clients, all of whom wish to remain unnamed because of safety concerns.
“The officers are very distraught over what happened, they feel for the family of Andrew Brown,” Williams said. “But as Mr. Womble described to you, we believe that the shooting was justified.”
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