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DA Says Sheriff's Deputies 'Justified' In Fatal Shooting Of Andrew Brown Jr.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Authorities in North Carolina issued their conclusions today into the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. by sheriff's deputies

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ANDREW WOMBLE: Based upon my review of the facts of this case, I have determined that the shooting of Andrew Brown on April 21, 2021, was justified to protect the safety and lives of the deputies on the scene.

SHAPIRO: That's District Attorney Andrew Womble presenting findings by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Womble says none of the deputies involved in the shooting will face criminal charges in Brown's death. Brown died last month while officers attempted to carry out a felony drug warrant. NPR's Sarah McCammon was at this morning's press conference and joins us now from Elizabeth City.

Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How is the district attorney who we just heard describing what happened leading up to the shooting death of Andrew Brown?

MCCAMMON: Well, Andrew Womble says investigators spent the last several weeks reviewing bodycam footage and other evidence, and they've determined that Pasquotank County sheriff's deputies reasonably feared for their safety. Womble says Brown used his car as a deadly weapon, that he made what he described as aggressive driving moves toward the officers and made contact with them twice with his car. Now, Womble spent more than an hour walking through the report, showing both still images and several portions of bodycam footage taken from multiple angles on that day.

SHAPIRO: And what did you see in those videos? What more do they show about the events that happened that day?

MCCAMMON: These videos do appear to show Brown backing up and then driving toward officers, and you can see deputies hustling out of the way. One of them is briefly pulled onto the hood of the car as Brown drives. And then moments later, you see the officers shooting at Brown's car, once from the front and then from behind several times as he drives away from them. Womble said there was an unmarked law enforcement vehicle in the path of Brown's car and that Brown posed a danger to others who might be in the area.

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WOMBLE: When you employ a car in a manner that puts officers' lives in danger, that is a threat. And I don't care what direction you're going - forward, backward, sideways. I don't care if you're stationary, and neither do our courts and our case law.

MCCAMMON: The Pasquotank County sheriff's policy manual explicitly says that officers should do their best to move away from vehicles that could pose a danger to them and that they should only shoot at a moving vehicle if it's the only way to avoid an imminent threat. We learned today that one of those bullets fired by law enforcement actually was found in a home nearby. But Womble said he believes officers acted well within what the law allows.

SHAPIRO: And what are we hearing today from the family of Andrew Brown Jr.?

MCCAMMON: All along, they've been saying that Brown's killing was not justified. They've seen about 20 minutes of bodycam footage, and they've called Brown's death an execution. In a statement from their lawyers today, they called the DA's conclusions an insult and a slap in the face. They are reiterating calls for the full bodycam footage to be released to the public, and they are asking the Department of Justice to intervene.

SHAPIRO: And what about the reaction in the community there in Elizabeth City, N.C.?

MCCAMMON: So, Ari, just before and sometimes during the press conference, we could hear protesters chanting outside the building. Afterward, I talked to Linnea Johnson, who'd been outside. She's been at many of the protests here in the days since Brown's death. And she told me that as a Black woman, she's feeling traumatized.

LINNEA JOHNSON: I'm tired of seeing Black people die, day in and day out and on the videos. But I also understand that the public needs to see it. And until we see it, change is not going to happen. So it's just this vicious cycle. And it's traumatic. I can't deal with it anymore.

MCCAMMON: As hard as it is to watch, Johnson says she thinks it's important for the public to see the entire tape with no redactions. That's been a big issue ever since Brown was shot to death on April 21. And so far, Womble did show some of the tape to reporters, but he said he could not release it, that a judge would have to do that if it were to be released publicly.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, what's the next step here?

MCCAMMON: The FBI's still investigating, a civil rights investigation, and the Andrew Brown family could still file civil lawsuits. Andrew Womble is an elected district attorney, and when he was asked if there's any recourse for people who disagree with his decision, he said the ballot box.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon.

Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.