ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — A judge has ordered a delay on the public release of bodycam footage in the case of Andrew Brown Jr., the man shot and killed by deputies last Wednesday in Elizabeth City, denying a request from the media to make the video immediately available to the public.
“The release at this time would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice,” said Pasquotank County Judge Jeffrey Foster, who said the video won’t be released for a minimum of 30 days (or maximum of 45) as authorities investigate.
However all footage from multiple body cameras will be made available to be viewed by Brown’s immediate family (with redactions allowed) within 10 days. Brown’s family has seen one 20-second clip from one bodycam so far.
Once the 30-45 day window is reached, the judge will determine if the family can obtain a copy of the video, which they could then publicly disseminate.
The judge also ordered all faces of officers involved in the incident be blurred before footage is released.
The decision came after Pasquotank District Attorney Andrew Womble requested a 30-day delay. Brown was killed by law enforcement last week while they conducted a search warrant.
Womble claimed video shows Andrew Brown Jr. hitting officers with his car twice before the shooting started, backing up and going forward, and that the vehicle wasn’t stationary when the shooting started. That’s in contradiction to the Brown family’s lawyers.
“As it backs up, it does make contact with law enforcement officers,” he said, adding that the car stops again. “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.”
No deputies suffered any notable injuries, per Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II.
Womble said that the video of shooting should be kept from the public for at least that 30 day-span so authorities can conduct their investigation.
“You can’t swing a skunk in front of a group of people and tell them not to smell it,” Womble said.
County attorney Michael Cox, who’s representing the sheriff’s office, argued for the video’s release, saying it won’t impede the investigation. An attorney for WAVY and other media organizations also argued for an immediate release.
It’s notable that the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the investigation, and local authorities have said it won’t hinder their probe.
“As far as any relevant video, we defer to the local authorities and the courts to make that determination as guided by State law,” said SBI Director Robert L. Schurmeier. “The SBI supports transparency to the greatest extent possible, as we think this serves the interests of the family, the local community, and North Carolina as a whole.”
The judge watched five videos from four body cameras. Brown’s family only saw a 20-second clip from one bodycam on Monday.
An independent autopsy released Tuesday found Brown was shot in the back of the head by a deputy. His family and their attorneys have called his death an execution.
The family and their attorneys released this statement Wednesday after the judge’s ruling.
“We are deeply disappointed by the judge’s decision to not make body camera footage from the involved officers available to be viewed by the public. 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. 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.”
G. K. Butterfield, who represents Elizabeth City in Congress, released this statement:
“I’m disappointed that Judge Jeff Foster declined to immediately release the video footage of the police shooting of Andrew Brown, Jr. This footage is a public record and there does not appear to be legal justification for withholding it from the public,” Butterfield said. “Police shootings in America are now an epidemic. The public is losing confidence in our law enforcement and criminal justice system. That’s why Governor Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, and the Pasquotank County Sheriff have all called for immediate release of the video footage. Further, the State Bureau of Investigation does not object to its release. I call on Judge Foster to reconsider his decision to withhold this important information from the public. By withholding the video from public inspection while the investigation is ongoing only leads to suspicion and further erosion of the public’s confidence in our justice system.”
The FBI has since opened a federal civil rights investigation into the case, and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is pushing for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
“This would help assure the community and Mr. Brown’s family that a decision on pursuing criminal charges is conducted without bias,” Cooper said in a statement.
View Foster’s full ruling below.