A Superior Court judge declined Wednesday to release to the public the body camera footage of the shooting and killing of Andrew Brown Jr. by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies last week. Some of Brown’s family will be allowed to view, but not get copies, of the videos. Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster said the videos will be disclosed to Brown’s son Khalil Ferebee, a few immediate family members and one attorney within 10 days. Officers’ faces, name tags and any other identifying information will be blurred or redacted in those videos, the judge said. There are four body camera videos and one dash cam video from a vehicle that the family will be able to view. The videos will be held from release to the family for no less than 30 days and no more than 45 days, which will allow ongoing investigations to be completed, Foster said. The court will consider release at that point, depending on any potential charges. H.P. Williams, a lawyer representing deputies in the case, clarified that release is delayed 30 to 45 days, but if charges are brought, the footage likely will not be shown until trial.
Foster’s ruling at the Pasquotank County Courthouse runs counter to arguments from both the sheriff’s office and the county, who pushed for the release of the video to the family and the public. Brown, 42, was shot and killed in his car outside his home in Elizabeth City a week ago as deputies were serving search and arrest warrants related to felony drug charges.
Brown’s family emerged from the courtroom after the ruling in a somber line, his 92-year-old grandmother Lydia Brown leading in her wheelchair. They have pressed for answers for a week and hoped Wednesday’s ruling would give them comfort beyond the 20-second clip of footage that some have seen. “I would loved to have seen it today,” said cousin Elisha Dillard. “He had his hands on the steering wheel. They had the advantage.”
The shooting has spurred nightly protests in Elizabeth City, where hundreds of people have demanded for the footage to be made public. For activists, Foster’s ruling brought a familiar sting, and they promised to resume a week of protest marches. “This is typical of what goes on in Pasquotank County,” said Keith Rivers, local NAACP president. “They have failed to give this family any closure. How can we trust them? ... They continued to display that they will slow-walk this in hopes that it will go away.”
Mike Tadych, attorney for the more than 20 state and national media outlets seeking release, said the ruling is “disappointing” but within the judge’s discretion. “We still believe release would be appropriate and even helpful in this case,” Tadych said. The media organizations can file an emergency appeal to the ruling once the order is certified by the judge. Foster ruled that the media did not have standing in this case, but even if it did “good cause does not exist.” Amanda Martin, another attorney representing the media, said in a statement if the media don’t have standing to petition the court for release of law enforcement video, the general public does not either. And her team believes that is legally incorrect, she said.
Foster also denied the immediate release of the footage to Ferebee. He said the court will reconsider the release after the investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation and a decision on potential criminal charges.
U.S. Congressman G. K. Butterfield, a Democrat whose district covers Elizabeth City, said in a statement that Foster’s decision to withhold the footage from the public during the investigation “leads to suspicion.”
“Police shootings in America are now an epidemic,” Butterfield said. “The public is losing confidence in our law enforcement and criminal justice system.”
In court Wednesday, Mike Cox, attorney for Pasquotank County and its sheriff’s office, said the sheriff’s office wants to release the video to the family and the media, in accordance with the law. “While the body-cam footage only shows one perspective for a limited period of time, it might give the public some ability to understand what happened that day,” Cox said. Cox also said the release of the footage would not impede independent investigations by the FBI and North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation in this case. But Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble argued against the full and immediate release of the body camera footage. He said there’s a compelling public interest for accountability, but the release would hinder a fair trial, risk the safety of deputies and affect active investigations. Womble, who would be the one to bring criminal charges in this case, said the footage should be released as evidence, if and when there’s a criminal trial. If no charges are brought, he said he would release the video at a press conference where he explains that decision.
Robert Schurmeier, director of the NC SBI, said in a statement that it’s customary for the agency to investigate officer-involved shootings in the state. He said their role is to “pursue the truth” in Andrew Brown’s death through an “independent, thorough, and impartial investigation” and share their results with the prosecutor. “The family, the community, and all impacted by this event deserve no less and the SBI is fully committed to making sure that the true facts are known, no matter where those facts lead us,” Schurmeier said. He said they defer to local authorities and the courts regarding relevant video, but support “transparency to the greatest extent possible.”
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Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said in a statement that he is disappointed the body camera footage won’t be released to the public, but he respects the judge’s ruling. “Although we’re unable to show the public what happened right now, the independent investigators are working to complete their investigation,” Wooten said. [Source]