Andrew Brown Jr. Shooting: Videos Place a Question Mark on Police Use of Force
A New York Times review of bodycam footage showing the police shooting that killed Andrew Brown Jr. in April raises doubt on whether officers were in imminent danger when they applied lethal force as he drove away in a bid to escape arrest.
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Since the fatal shooting, the officers involved have not been charged. The district attorney for North Carolina’s First Judicial District, Andrew Womble said that their actions were justified because Mr. Brown was using his car as a “deadly weapon.” According to Womble, police body-camera videos “clearly illustrate the officers who used deadly force on Andrew Brown Jr. did so reasonably” and acted in the manner because they were in danger of losing their own lives.
The shooting has been described as an ‘execution’ by Mr. Brown’s family members and their lawyers.
A slowed-down video of the shooting which was reviewed by the New York Times shows that Brown was fired at as he was driving away from the officers and not at them. A total of 13 out of the 14 gunshots — including the fatal one — were fired at him as he drove away from officers.
The footage which was presented at a press conference by the district attorney is made from four officers’ cameras.
“While the deputies did not break the law, we all wish things could have gone differently. Much differently,” said Sheriff Tommy Wooten II of Pasquotank County.
Here’s the sequence of the videos that lasted 20-seconds.
The police officers enter Mr. Brown’s house at 8:23 a.m. on Wednesday, April 21 in a Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office pickup truck to carry out search and arrest warrants.
The prosecutor said that the police team had been alerted that morning of Mr. Brown’s previous convictions and a history of resisting arrest.
Mr. Brown, 42 is seen seated in his car outside his house after returning from a drive that morning. The officers move close to him with their weapons drawn, shouting orders at him, the prosecutor explained.
Mr. Brown ignores the officers’ orders. The situation worsens.
As two officers make for the driver’s-side door, Mr. Brown backs up the vehicle, grazing an officer but does not injure him.
Mr. Brown does not comply with the officers’ repeated orders to stop the car. He lurches the vehicle forward while steering it sharply to the left, putting officers at risk, the prosecutor said.
The car at first moves toward the same officer who had been grazed earlier on. This officer does not move away from the car but moves a step into Mr. Brown’s path. It’s not clear if the intention of the officer is to obstruct Mr. Brown’s escape or he is trying to evade the car.
Briefly, the officer places his left hand on the hood of the car. At this point, another officer fires a shot that Mr. Womble said: “entered the front windshield” of the car and was not fatal.
That is a contradiction of a preliminary internal investigation report, which exposed the fact that no bullet penetrated the windshield.
In the video, there’s a brief pause in shooting as Mr. Brown maneuvers his car between two officers. At this point, Mr. Brown increases speed and drives away, three officers fired 13 more shots into the side and rear of Mr. Brown’s car. One of the 13 shots proves fatal as Mr. Brown is hit in the back of his head. His car crashes into a tree 50 yards from his home.
Mr. Womble justifies the police’s use of lethal force, saying Mr. Brown “drove recklessly and endangered the officers.” Mr. Womble also argued that “they could not simply let him go.”
But the legalities surrounding this can become complicated. “The Supreme Court has never authorized the use of deadly force simply because someone is resisting arrest or fleeing,” a law professor at Georgetown University and former federal prosecutor, Paul Butler said in an interview about the footage. He added that “sometimes the best policing is to let the suspect go.”
The officers’ actions may have gone against their department’s guidelines. The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office’s use-of-force policy states that shooting at a moving vehicle is “rarely effective,” and that officers are to fire at a moving vehicle only “when the deputy reasonably believes there are no other reasonable means available to avert the imminent threat of the vehicle.”
Seth Stoughton, a law professor and policing expert at the University of South Carolina, faulted the officers’ actions at the time Mr. Brown was speeding away.
“Deadly force is only justified while there is an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm,” he said. “Once the vehicle has driven past the officers and they are now to the side of it, or behind it, as it’s going away from them, there is no more imminent threat.”
Beyond the shooting of Mr. Brown, the videos show that officers may have overlooked the safety of some of their colleagues and others. A neighbor’s house was in their line of fire and an unmarked white police minivan was equally in danger.
Mr. Womble said that while the white minivan was in the way of the bullets, the officers in the vehicle were not in danger.
Michael Anthony Gordon Sr., whose house was in the line of fire, revealed to The Times that a bullet from the shooting pierced his kitchen, but luckily no one was home at the time. Mr. Womble stated that one shot fired by the police must have ricocheted, and hit the house.
The decision of the district attorney not to press charges closes a state-level criminal case, however, a federal civil rights case is ongoing.