GREENSBORO, N.C. — Protesters took to the streets in Elizabeth City May 18, just hours after Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble announced he had ruled that the shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. by sheriff’s deputies there was “tragic, but justified.” Womble said no criminal charges will be filed, that the officers involved needed to use deadly force to protect themselves.
The seven cops had come to Brown’s home to serve warrants related to drug charges. He tried to drive away and, Womble said, once Brown put his car into gear it became a “deadly weapon.” But during the press conference, Womble played body camera video that showed Brown, an African American, was driving away from the officers when three of the cops opened fire, one hitting him with a fatal shot to the back of the head.
There have been almost daily disciplined and orderly protests since the killing. His family was finally permitted to see 20 minutes of the police body camera videos, but are demanding the full recording be released publicly.
After Womble’s press conference, the family’s attorneys said his decision “was an insult and slap in the face to Andrew’s family.”
“This should not have happened this way,” Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten told the family. He said none of the cops will be fired, but that the three who opened fire will be “disciplined and retrained.”
Womble tried to paint Brown as a dangerous criminal, saying he had a record of arrests, including for assault with a deadly weapon. But he also had to admit the officers were told that Brown was not known to carry a weapon and there were no weapons found in the car.
The media asked the district attorney if those disappointed with his decision had any alternative. He said they could vote him out at the ballot box.
“We don’t have to wait for the ballot box,” Rev. William Barber, co-founder of the National Poor People’s Campaign, said at a press conference May 21, where he was joined by Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP, and Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank County NAACP.
They said they would take a more direct approach and will be going to Washington, D.C., to personally urge Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch a federal investigation.
“We can keep marching on nonviolently now,” Barber said. “A warrant is not a license to kill.”