Sheriff: Deputies who didn’t fire at Black man back on duty

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina sheriff said Thursday that he has put four deputies involved in the case of a Black man who was fatally shot last week back on active duty after a review of body camera video showed they did not fire their weapons.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten announced in a news release that he has reinstated four of the seven deputies who were placed on administrative leave after the shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. The other three deputies will remain on leave until investigations are completed, Wooten said.

“After reviewing the preliminary conclusions of the independent investigators conducting the internal review, and after carefully examining the body camera footage of the incident with my own staff, it’s obvious that four of the deputies never fired their weapons and deserve to be reinstated to active duty,” Wooten said.

Lt. Steven Judd, Sgt. Michael Swindell, Sgt. Kenneth Bishop and Sgt. Joel Lunsford were moved back to active duty. Investigator Daniel Meads, Deputy Robert Morgan and Cpl. Aaron Lewellyn remained on leave.

Brown was shot April 21 by deputies serving drug-related search and arrest warrants at his house in the town of Elizabeth City, about 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Raleigh. On Tuesday, Brown’s family released an independent autopsy showing he was shot five times, including in the back of the head. The state’s autopsy has not been released yet.

Brown family attorney Harry Daniels called the decision to reinstate the four deputies “unprofessional,” noting that the family has not been shown the video that Wooten says shows they did not fire their weapons.

“They’re reinstating deputies with no transparency,” Daniels said. “We think that’s inappropriate and should not be done.”

“We have to take their word for it — that’s not transparency,” he said.

On Wednesday, a judge refused to release the body camera video, ruling that making the video public at this stage could jeopardize the investigation into Brown’s death.

Judge Jeff Foster did order authorities to allow Brown’s family to privately view five videos from body cameras and one from a dashboard camera within 10 days, with some portions blurred or redacted. Family members had previously been allowed to view only a 20-second clip from a single body camera.

Foster said the video must remain out of public view for at least 30 days, but he would consider releasing it after that point if investigations are complete.

In arguing against the public release of the video, District Attorney Andrew Womble told the judge that he disagreed with a characterization by an attorney for Brown’s family that Brown did not try to drive away until deputies opened fire. Womble said the video shows that Brown’s car made “contact” with law enforcement twice before shots could be heard on the video. He said officers shouted commands and tried to open a car door before any shots were fired.

The FBI on Tuesday announced a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has also called for a swift release of the video, urged that a special prosecutor be appointed to take the state’s case over from Womble. However, under state law, the district attorney would have to agree to let another prosecutor step in. Womble indicated in a statement Tuesday that he will not do so.

The State Bureau of Investigation began a probe of the shooting shortly after it happened. It has said that it would turn its findings over to Womble, as is standard under state laws and procedures.

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