ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. - Leaders of a North Carolina city where a Black man was shot and killed by deputies serving search and drug-related warrants urged the sheriff Friday to release body camera video of the shooting, saying they're prepared to go to court if he doesn't.
The calls for transparency come amid signs, including emergency scanner traffic, that Andrew Brown Jr. was shot in the back and killed as he was trying to drive away.
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II has said that at least one of the deputies serving the warrants on the day of Wednesday's shooting was wearing a body camera and that it was activated. The City Council in Elizabeth City unanimously voted to send a letter to the sheriff, local prosecutor and State Bureau of Investigation demanding release of the footage. The measure also directed city staff to petition a local court to release the footage if the sheriff denies the council's request.
"Doing nothing is not an option," said Councilman Michael Brooks.
FILE - A demonstrator holds a sign for Andrew Brown Jr. during a protest march on April 22, 2021 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
The council's measure isn't binding on the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office, which is a separate entity from city government. In North Carolina, a judge must generally sign off on release of body camera footage, but the law says anyone can file a petition in court seeking its release. A coalition of news outlets including The Associated Press was also drafting a petition to ask a local judge to release the footage.
The sheriff has given no timetable for release of the video, which has also been demanded by protesters who have taken to the streets each night since Brown was shot.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that President Joe Biden is aware of Brown’s death, but that Biden would likely leave decisions over the timetable for releasing body camera footage to local authorities.
"Obviously, the loss of life is a tragedy and obviously we’re thinking of the family members and the community," Psaki said at her daily briefing.
Wooten has said deputies from his department including a tactical team were attempting to serve search and drug-related warrants when Brown was shot, but he has offered few other details. Nearby Dare County had issued two arrest warrants for Brown on drug-related charges including possession with intent to sell cocaine. Brown, 42, had a criminal history dating back to the 1990s, including past drug convictions.
Recordings of scanner traffic compiled by broadcastify.com from the morning of the shooting include emergency personnel indicating that Brown was shot in the back. An eyewitness has said that deputies fired shots at Brown as he tried to drive away, and a car authorities removed from the scene appeared to have multiple bullet holes and a shattered back window.
"We are responding. Law enforcement on scene advises shots fired, need EMS," says one woman, who refers to the address where the warrant was served.
"EMS has got one male 42 years of age, gunshot to the back. We do have viable pulse at this time," said a male voice. Someone then said that first responders were trying to resuscitate the man.
The sheriff, district attorney and state medical examiner didn’t immediately respond to emails Friday asking for comment on the scanner traffic. The SBI declined to comment.
Wooten said multiple deputies involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave pending a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation. He didn’t specify how many deputies were involved.
During demonstrations Thursday night, protesters questioned why deputies opened fire in a residential area down the street from an elementary school. Brown’s car came to rest in front of a house near yellow road signs marking the approach to the school.
"That means they fired a shot in a school zone," Quentin Jackson, regional director for the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, said while addressing a group of fellow demonstrators.
People in the crowd nodded and shouted, "Yeah." One man yelled, "And they fired into a moving vehicle."
"When does this stop?" Jackson asked. "When does it stop?"
On Wednesday night, hours after the shooting, Mike Gordon, who lives in the house where Brown’s car hit a tree and came to a stop, showed a reporter a bullet hole next to his front door that went through an antique wall clock and all the way into his kitchen.
"I’m happy and thankful to the Lord that my wife and I wasn’t home," he said.
Still, Gordon, a former military police officer, said he’s thankful for the work law enforcement does, and he hoped people would reserve judgment until the facts come out.
"You never know what had happened or what went wrong," he said. "But it doesn’t matter now. The young man is gone."
Drew reported from Durham, North Carolina.