The three sheriff’s deputies who opened fire and killed Andrew Brown, an unarmed Black man sitting in his car, will keep their jobs, a North Carolina sheriff announced on Tuesday, following news the same day that the officers will not face any charges for the fatal encounter. The deputies will, however, be disciplined and retrained, according to Virginia-based WAVY News, which first reported the news.
“While the DA [district attorney] concluded that no criminal law was violated, this was a terrible and tragic outcome, and we could do better,” Pasquotank County sheriff Tommy S. Wooten, II, said in a video statement on Tuesday. “Every person in every job makes decisions. In law enforcement, we have a higher responsibility to do everything we can to make the best decision. We can always do better and we must.”
The sheriff, who unlike county prosecutors has expressed support for releasing the full tranche of body camera videos capturing the encounter, also offered his condolences to Mr Brown’s family.
“This should not have happened this way at all. While the deputies did not break the law, we all wish things could’ve gone differently, much differently,” he said. “I continue to pray for them and hope they will find peace.”
Earlier in the day, Pasquotank district attorney Andrew Womble announced the deputies wouldn’t face any charges, either, saying that the shooting “while tragic, was justified”. He argued that on the April day when heavily armed deputies arrived to serve Mr Brown an arrest warrant, the man drove his car at officers, who proceeded to open fire.
Mr Brown’s family, who has viewed more than 20 minutes of police body camera footage of the killing, has offered a substantially different account of the shooting, which they have compared to a “modern-day lynch mob”. They’ve also asked that Mr Womble hand over the case to other officials because of his close ties to the sheriff’s department, arguing he has a conflict of interest.
According to the family, Mr Brown sat in his car with his hands visible at all times and only began to drive away once deputies fired the first shot, taking care to avoid the crowd of police surrounding the car even as they rained bullets into the vehicle.
“At all times you could see that he was not a threat,” Brown family attorney Chance Lynch said at a press conference last week. “At all times what we saw were police officers standing on the pavement, unloading their weapons. There were so many shots that we found difficulty in counting the number of shots this vehicle received.”
Though he has said he opposes releasing the full footage, DA Womble played a selection of police body camera video on Tuesday. The first shot fired at Mr Brown occurred while his car was in reverse and at least several feet away from the police. A private autopsy from the family concluded he died from a gunshot to the back of the head.
Community members and activists were outraged over the decision not to press charges.
“Communities deserve justice and accountability, but history shows justice for people of colour is rare in a system that was built upon slavery and has been modified over time to control and limit the lives of those who are not white,” Kristie Puckett-Williams, of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The FBI is continuing to investigate the case, and the county sheriff said he is asking a judge to publicly release the body camera footage as soon as legally possible.
Sheriff Wooten also said in his Tuesday address that he would discipline two officers on the scene for failing to turn on their body cameras, which he called “unacceptable,” and others for failing to follow department policy and having an emergency medical services unit on standby ahead of the raid-style encounter with Mr Brown.
“While it would not have saved Mr Brown’s life, based on his injuries, it’s something we should’ve done better,” the sheriff said on Tuesday.
He also said he will require his office to have threat assessments surrounding arrests and warrant service laid out in writing ahead of time before special operations raids, and retrain the special operations team that carried out the shooting.