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Andrew Brown: No charges for police who shot black motorist

·4-min read
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton spoke at Mr Brown's funeral
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton spoke at Mr Brown's funeral

The officers involved in the fatal shooting of a black motorist during an attempted arrest in North Carolina will not face criminal charges.

The Elizabeth City district attorney told reporters the police shooting of Andrew Brown, 42, was "justified".

Officials say Mr Brown drove his car at police during the 44-second encounter.

Mr Brown's family say he was "executed". A private post-mortem examination said he was shot five times, including in the back.

But authorities said on Tuesday that Mr Brown was shot twice: in the shoulder and the back of the head. The other injuries were shrapnel wounds, they said.

His death on 21 April sparked protests against police brutality, and comes at a time of heightened scrutiny over the use of police force on African Americans.

What did the district attorney say?

In a news conference on Tuesday, District Attorney Andrew Womble said Mr Brown "posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers" when he ignored commands and tried to evade arrest, using his car as a "deadly weapon".

Police in full tactical gear had gone to Mr Brown's home in Elizabeth City to serve arrest and search warrants related to drug charges, Mr Womble said, and "they could not simply let him go as has been suggested".

The district attorney said Mr Brown was a known drug dealer who had sold cocaine and heroin laced with fentanyl.

Mr Womble said the Pasquotank County officers involved in the arrest had been briefed beforehand on Mr Brown's criminal history of charges for resisting arrest and convictions for assault.

He also said deputies were told that Mr Brown was not known usually to carry weapons. No weapons were found in the vehicle.

During the news conference, a bodycam clip of the shooting was projected onto a screen behind Mr Womble.

The jerky police footage showed officers approaching Mr Brown's car with guns drawn. One of the officers reaches for the driver's side door and the vehicle reverses.

The same officer appears to be in the path of the car as it moves forward, and he seems to avoid being directly struck by the vehicle as he steps aside, touching the bonnet.

Gunfire rings out as the car drives away from the officers.

Still from police video footage of the shooting dead of Andrew Brown in North Carolina
Still from police video footage of the shooting dead of Andrew Brown in North Carolina

"I find that the facts of this case clearly illustrate the officers who used deadly force on Andrew Brown Jr did so reasonably and only when a violent felon used a deadly weapon to place their lives in danger," Mr Womble said.

"The Constitution simply does not require police to gamble with their lives in the face of a serious threat of harm."

Mr Womble told reporters an officer's body was struck by the vehicle, but he said no police were injured in the incident.

The three deputies who fired shots - two white and one black - have been on leave since it happened. The district attorney noted that none of the three had prior excessive force complaints. Four other deputies at the scene did not open fire.

Of the 14 shots fired at the vehicle, Mr Womble noted one appeared to have ricocheted and was found in a nearby house.

The district attorney, a Republican, also said Mr Brown's vehicle had been driving towards an unmarked police van containing officers across the street.

Mr Womble told reporters he had not spoken with Mr Brown's family ahead of the news conference. He said there were "barriers" in speaking with the family and their counsel.

What has the family said?

Reacting to Tuesday's news conference, lawyers for the Brown family said it was "both an insult and a slap in the face".

Their statement said: "Not only was the car moving away from officers, but four of them did not fire their weapons - clearly they did not feel that their lives were endangered. And the bottom line is that Andrew was killed by a shot to the back of the head."

After reviewing some of the police footage of the shooting at the end of April, the family has denied that Mr Brown was driving towards police when he was shot.

"I saw him executed," Mr Brown's son, Khalil Ferebee, said shortly after viewing the footage. "It's obvious he was trying to get away."

"Andrew had his hands on his steering wheel. He was not reaching for anything. He wasn't touching anything," another lawyer for the family, Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, told reporters.

Ben Crump, one of the lawyers representing the family, told a news conference "it was a kill shot to the back of the head". Mr Crump has represented other families in high-profile police shootings of African Americans, including the relatives of George Floyd.

Following Tuesday's briefing, civil rights leader Rev Al Sharpton called Mr Womble's defence "bizarre and unconvincing", and said federal officials and a special prosecutor should take on the case.

Last month, the FBI said it had opened a civil rights investigation into the incident to "determine whether federal laws were violated".