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At This Hour

D.A.: Andrew Brown's Death "Was Justified". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2021 - 11:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

AT THIS HOUR, we begin with breaking news on the fatal police shooting of a black man in North Carolina. The district attorney was taking a live look right now inside what will be a press conference by the district attorney. He's going to be holding a press conference on the state's investigation into the killing of Andrew Brown Jr.

You remember that Brown was fatally shot by deputies last month when they were trying to serve him with an arrest warrant. The central focus since then and to this point has been on body camera footage from the officers involved. What it shows and what it does not. We, the public, don't know because that video still has not been released publicly.

Andrew Brown Jr.'s family has been allowed to see at least some of it, because there's been a lot of back and forth over that. Let me play for you as we are waiting here for this press conference to begin what two of his sons said after -- let's just hold right here, because it looks like the district attorney is beginning right now.

Let's listen in.

ANDREW WOMBLE, PASQUOTANK COUNTY, NC DISTRICT ATTORNEY: First of all, I'd like to thank everybody for being here today. Once again, just as a form of introduction, my name is Andrew Womble, and I am elected district attorney for judicial district one, which is the seven counties of the northeast.

We're going to have this conference today. I have some prepared remarks that I'll be reading from. I have copies of those already prepared that you may pick up in the press packet. If you would like to have us e-mail those to you, you would supply us with an e-mail, we'll be happy to do so.

On Wednesday, April 21st, 2021, Andrew Brown Jr. of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, was shot and killed by three deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office. This incident occurred at the residence of Mr. Brown located at 421 Perry Street in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. After reviewing the investigation, conducted by the North Carolina

State Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Brown's death while tragic was justified because Mr. Brown's actions caused three deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others.

While the officer involved shooting that resulted in the death of Andrew Brown occurred on Wednesday, April 21st, law enforcement involvement with Mr. Brown began in the weeks prior and put the wheels in motion that eventually led to the attempted service of arrest and search warrants on April 21, 2021.

And in the early months of this year, Detective Johnson with the Dare County sheriff's office received information from a reliable confidential source that Andrew Brown Jr. from Elizabeth City was selling drugs in the Dare County. Detective Johnson contacted Pasquotank County and confirmed Mr. Brown's identity and that he is a known drug dealer. Upon learning this information, the Detective Johnson with the aid of the confidential informant made two undercover buys from Brown on March 17th, 2021 and March 29th, 2021.

Those buys were of cocaine and heroin respectively. A later FBI lab analysis determined that heroin was laced with fentanyl. Subsequently, arrest warrants were issued for Brown's arrest on April 20th, 2021. Simultaneous with the activity of the Dare County Sheriff's Office, Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office began collecting their own intelligence on the drug activity of Mr. Brown at his residence at 421 Perry Street. Detective Ryan meets applied for and obtained a search warrant for the residence and vehicles of Mr. Brown.

On Tuesday, April 20th, 2021, law enforcement now possessed two arrest warrants for the sale of controlled substances in the Dare County as well as a search warrant for the residence and vehicles of Mr. Brown. A joint team of law enforcement from Dare County and Pasquotank was assembled. The Dare County drug task force was to provide surveillance and the officers present that day were Detective Johnson, Sergeant Roth (ph) and Detective Langley.


The Pasquotank special operation and tactics team would serve the warrants and take Mr. Brown into custody. Their team consisted of Lieutenant Judge, Sergeant Meads (ph), Deputy Morgan, Deputy Luellen (ph) and Deputy Bishop, Deputy Swindell (ph) and Deputy Lunsford (ph).

Deputies Morgan, Luellen (ph), Bishop and Swindell (ph) were wearing body cameras. Their original plan was to serve the warrants on the night of April 20, 2021. However, Mr. Brown was not at his residence and could not be located by the surveillance team.

On the morning of April 21, 2021, at approximately 5:30 a.m., law enforcement held a briefing here at the Pasquotank County sheriff's office and plan to serve the warrants on Mr. Brown.

During the briefing conducted by Sergeant Meads, the team was briefed on Mr. Brown and his past involvement with law enforcement. It was relayed to the team that Mr. Brown has multiple resist arrest charges and convictions dating back to 1995. Additionally, Mr. Brown has assault, assault with a deadly weapon and assault serious injury convictions dating back to '95.

Further, Mr. Brown has barricaded doorways during previous home search warrants instances. No children were believed to be at the location and the mother of Mr. Brown's minor children was seldom at his residence.

At approximately 8:00 a.m. Mr. Brown was located on Speed Street here in Elizabeth City by one of the members of the Dare County narcotics team. Mr. Brown then drove his vehicle to his residence at 421 Perry Street and remained in his vehicle until law enforcement arrived.

Upon receiving this information, the Pasquotank County team traveled to 421 Perry Street to serve the warrants in a clearly marked county sheriff's office truck with blue lights and emergency lights flashing. Detective Langley from Dare County drove the vehicle and Deputy Lunsford was in the passenger seat. The remaining members of the county team were in the truck bed as the truck was en route.

Upon arriving to 421 Perry Street at approximately 8:23 a.m., Mr. Brown was still sitting in his vehicle beside the residence. Detective Langley pulled the Pasquotank County truck in the driveway with his right front bumper close to the front bumper of Brown's vehicle to block any forward motion and Brown was still seated in the vehicle.

The six members of the Pasquotank County team approached Brown's vehicle, identified themselves, shouted commands to show them his hands and to exit the vehicle. All members were wearing clearly marked Pasquotank County sheriff's office gear and uniforms.

Deputy Lunsford headed directly to the driver's door with his weapon drawn and attempted to open the door. Deputy Swindell accompanied Deputy Lunsford to the driver's side of the car.

Deputy Luellen (ph) went around the Pasquotank County truck and approached the vehicle from the front passenger side and Deputy Bishop -- would you like to do this manually?

Deputy Luellen (ph) went around the Pasquotank County truck and approached the vehicle from the front passenger side and Deputy Bishop and Sergeant Meads were directly in front of Brown's car. Deputy Morgan approached last and positioned himself between deputy Bishop and Sergeant Meads.


Nothing ever works the way it's supposed to, does it? If you'll just be patient.

I want you to have a full, complete, and accurate view of what transpired and what the deputy saw that particular day right there. Stop.

Once again, I will repeat, you're looking at Deputy Luellen's body cam. He went around the Pasquotank County truck. He approached from the passenger side. Deputy Bishop, sergeant meads were directly in front of Brown's vehicle and Deputy Morgan approached last and positioned himself between Deputy Bishop and Sergeant Meads. Brown was holding his phone when law enforcement approached.

You skipped. Can you back up? Back up.

All right. Brown threw the phone down and began to back his car way from the officers.

Have you taken it out? Am I -- am I completely offline at this point?

You need to back up to about five slides. Leave it right there. You're at photo 11, if you would back up to photo 6.

All right. Thank you.

Andrew, at this point, I just give you the nod to move forward, OK?

Brown threw the phone down and began to rapidly back his car away from the officers. Deputy Lunsford's hand was still on the driver's door handle as Brown's car reversed and the handle snatched out of his hand.

At this moment, Deputy Lunsford yelled out and Deputy Lunsford was pulled over the hood of Brown's vehicle where his body and his safety equipment were struck by the vehicle. Deputy Lunsford's left arm was squarely on the hood. Deputy Lunsford took evasive action to get out of the way in Brown's vehicle. And law enforcement commands became more heated with profanities for Brown to stop the car.

Brown ignored the officer's commands and backed his car until he was blocked by the rear of his residence.

Continue. Continue. Right there.

Brown then put the car in drive and turned the steering wheel left directly at law enforcement officers who had now surrounded his vehicle.

Despite this tense situation and the aggressive driving by Mr. Brown, no law enforcement officer fired a shot.

As Brown's car starts forward, Deputy Lunsford was now positioned directly in front of the vehicle and all officers were shouting commands to stop.

Brown ignored the commands and drove directly at Deputy Lunsford. Deputy Lunsford used his left hand to push off of the hood.


It was at this moment that the first shot is fired. Deputy Lunsford then spun out of the way to avoid being run over by Brown's vehicle.

One more. According to the North Carolina Justice Academy forensic analyst

Casson Reynolds, the first shot was fired by Sergeant Meads and it entered the front windshield of Mr. Brown's car. Let me say that again. It entered the front windshield of Mr. Brown's car.

Brown's car continued forward passing Deputy Lunsford, Deputy Morgan and Sergeant Meads and several shots are heard. One shot interviewed the passenger window and struck Brown in the shoulder. Several more entered the rear passenger side door and window.

Brown's vehicle then accelerated across the vacant lot next to 421 Perry Street and five additional shots entered the rear windshield and trunk of Brown's vehicle. At this moment Brown was driving directly at investigator Johnson positioned on Roanoke Avenue in an unmarked white van. Lieutenant Judd was positioned on the corner of Roanoke and Perry in an unmarked white Crown Victoria.

Brown's car narrowly missed striking the van operated by investigators Johnson who accelerated to avoid the collision. Brown's vehicle crossed Roanoke Avenue, struck a tree in the residence on Roanoke Avenue and came to rest. The Pasquotank County team gave chase, removed Brown from the driver's seat and life saving efforts were immediately begun.

At 8:24, deputies notified dispatch of shots fired. Emergency medical services were requested at 8:26 a.m. Lieutenant Judd was a supervising officer. He was on the scene at the time of the shooting.

Other supervising officers of the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office arrived including Chief Deputy Fogg who collected the weapons and cell phones of the officers who fired. All of the following is clearly depicted on the body cameras that were operational and functioning properly on April 21, 2021. They were being worn by the aforementioned Pasquotank County sheriff's officers.

The total length of officer involvement with Mr. Brown from the time they exited the vehicle until Mr. Brown was removed from the vehicle is 44 seconds.

I'm now going to show you the four body cam videos that depict law enforcement activity with Mr. Brown on that day.

BOLDUAN: All right, everyone. We're going to jump out of this and here's the reason why. This is first time anybody cam video footage from this shooting of Andrew Brown is going to be seen publicly. We need to be very careful and respectful before putting that out there in first pass, because we know how this ends on this footage and we need to be very careful in how we treat it.

So we're going to let this moment pass. We're going to watch this video. We'll obviously now that it is being made public for first time by the D.A., we'll be able to put that together and we will be able to bring it to you shortly.

But while we're waiting as this press conference continues, let me bring in Cheryl Dorsey, who's a retired police sergeant with the LAPD. Reverend Greg Drumwright, he's joining us. He is a political organizer who has been advising the Brown family. As well as Joey Jackson, a CNN legal analyst.

I have to tell you, Reverend, I'd like to get your take as you have been close with the family and advising them. I am shocked and honestly a little confused why this video is now able to be shown when there was so much made about how it could not be made publicly previously.

Can you just give me your reaction to what we heard so far?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT, POLITICAL ORGANIZER AND ADVISER TO ANDREW BROWN'S FAMILY: My reaction is that this is come forth now several weeks after the public outcry but more specifically the family has been demanding truth and transparency simply because the sheriffs, the D.A. know that this has been a cover-up.


And it is very questionable to us as to why now? Why not sooner than now? What have they been seeking to conceal? What have they been seeking to hide?

Forty-four seconds of video but we know that there are more than two hours available from that day. Why would they not release the entire video from all five body cams to the family even though they're only showing the public again today 44 seconds, first 20 seconds, then 18 minutes and now 44 seconds.

There is still so much missing. And we want truth and accountability in this case.

BOLDUAN: Joey, I want to get your reaction. We don't know -- we have not reached the conclusion of what the district attorney is going to tell us in the end. There will be charges? Will there not be charges? We don't know where this is going to go.

And we -- the control room is going to tell me when we're going to jump back into this press conference. Let me just tell you that. But you can see -- but talk to me about -- I'm going to call it the lead- up that this D.A. is laying out. We heard him. He seems -- he so far is quite focused on the past criminal record of Andrew Brown Jr.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, Kate, my view of this is that there has been a determination. That he said at the outset that is the D.A. that it was justified and everything he is saying there after seems to justify that conclusion.

Here's my concern. Haven't seen the evidence, haven't seen the body cams, the public hasn't. So, from an analysis perspective, it's hard to give it.

But let give you perspective I do have. Perspective number one, I never liked to see the local elected D.A. dealing with matters that are involved in their jurisdiction. What do I mean? You have a prosecution's office, Kate, that historically relies upon police in that jurisdiction to solve and resolve case that don't involve police.

So, therefore, why is the local D.A. opining and drawing conclusions with respect to police in that jurisdiction? It should be separate. It should be apart. It should be independent. You talk about community trust. That's how you get it, with an independent investigation.

Step number two of concern, this appeared to me to be a savaging of the victim in the case, right? You have a person who is dead. You have indication that's oh, he barricaded doors before.

He is a drug dealer. He's involved in drug sales. He has a prior conviction. He's got past convictions. That's problematic.

Third point, quickly, and that is you can't cherry pick evidence. Every case there are disputed issues of fact. If you allow for transparency --


BOLDUAN: Joey, I'm sorry to interrupt. We're going to jump back into this, everybody.

WOMBLE: -- scene of the incident. We viewed the scene and later that day I met with Sheriff Wooten, Special Agent Rogers, members of the FBI team that would conduct the investigation.

On May 11th, 2021, the FBI lead case agent, Jason Godfrey (ph), began releasing the SBI report gathered to the district attorney's office. I immediately began review of the written SBI reports and other documents as investigated by the SBI.

I reviewed the SBI investigation which included interviews of the deputies involved with the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office, interviews of civilian witnesses, interview of Dr. Karen L. Kelly, a forensic pathologist at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, photographs of the scene, ballistics and trajectory report of Casson Reynolds, analysis of weapons and shell casings, the law enforcement personnel records of the deputies involved, video footage of the body cameras at the scene and the crime scene report. In addition, I have met or had telephone contact with Jason Godfrey practically every day since April 21, 2021.

Agent Godfrey and I reviewed the trajectory rod analysis performed by Agent Candace Pegram (ph) and assistant by Agents Rob Evans and Stephen Style (ph) on April 22nd, 2021.

Further, I sought advice and counsel from numerous elected district attorneys around the state who have had recent experience with officer involved shooting cases.

There are 14 house nears 421 Perry Street and each location is canvassed for evidence and witnesses. Four civilians provided statements to law enforcement, Ms. Demitrea (ph) Williams stated she lived in the vicinity of 421 Perry Street and heard gun shots from inside of her residence. She further stated that after hearing the first shot, she exited her home, went down the street and saw the remainder of the shots being fired. Her home is approximately 100 yards away from 421 Perry Street.


The total time from the first shot to the last is five seconds, call into question Ms. Williams' statements regarding witnessing the shooting.

The second civilian to give a statement was Daniel Sturtevant (ph). Mr. Sturtevant (ph) stated that the incident occurred prior to 8:00 a.m. He stated he heard officers shouting commands at which time he walked to his window. He stated the officers were firing into the car while they were given Brown commands to get out.

The third civilian to give a statement was Ashley Bechtel (ph). Ms. Bechtel (ph) stated that she did not see the initial shots fired but heard them and went to her window. She stated Brown's car was heading over Roanoke Avenue and the officers were forceful when removing Brown from the vehicle. Bechtel stated she heard additional shots after Brown's vehicle struck the industry and as officers approached the vehicle.

The fourth civilian to give a statement was Amber Santiago. Ms. Santiago stated she was in a relationship with Mr. Brown and stated he had a telephone conversation the night before where Brown stated he believed the police were following him. She further stated that Mr. Brown said he was going to stay at a hotel rather than stay at his residence at 421 Perry Street.

The weapons used by the three Pasquotank County deputies who fired were two Glock 17 handguns and an AR-15223 rifle. These weapons were seized and provided to the SBI. The SBI recovered 14 spent shell casings, nine from the Glock 17 handgun and five from the AR-15 rifle will.

These 14 spent shell casings were recovered from the cement driveway and in the yard adjacent to 421 Perry Street. These 14 shell casings were consistent with the body cam videos and physical examination of Brown's car as being fired by the deputies.

On April 21, 2021, Mr. Brown's body was transported to the medical examiner's office in Greenville, North Carolina, where an autopsy was performed.

The autopsy was conducted by Dr. Karen L. Kelly, a forensic pathologist, of the medical examiner's office at the Brody School of Medicine in Greenville. And that was done on Thursday, April 22nd, 2021.

The autopsy was witnessed by Special Agent Cowan with the North Carolina SBI. And a written report was produced of the findings.

Although the autopsy and toxicology reports have not been finalized at this time, I had telephone contact with Dr. Kelly on may 12th at which time we discussed her findings. Dr. Kelly determined Brown suffered two gunshot wounds, one to the right shoulder upper arm that was non- lethal and second one at the back of the head at the base of the skull near the hairline. There were three bullet fragments recovered from the wound to the back of the head.

Dr. Kelly found multiple abrasions on Brown's right arm, right leg and on his back. Dr. Kelly advised that these injuries were superficial and appeared to be made by shrapnel.

Additionally, Dr. Kelly recovered a plastic baggy containing an off white, rock like substance from inside of Mr. Brown's mouth. The substance is consistent with crystal meth and was the size of 50 cent piece and two large to swallow.

Dr. Kelly determined the cause of death to be multiple gunshot wounds.

The deputies involved in shooting incident have no prior excessive force complaints.

The law is clear and long established. The United States Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the North Carolina appellate courts have all held that where officers are attempting to make an arrest, deadly force may be use if it appears to be reasonably necessary to, first, protect against deadly force, that the arrestee is refusing to resist arrest, or, two, to take into custody a person who presents an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others unless apprehended immediately.

The North Carolina General Assembly codified this case law with our general statutes at NCGS 15A 401D2 which I have attached to the press package.

The United States Supreme Court has cautioned, prosecutors may not employ the 20/20 vision of hindsight but must make allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split second judgment and circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.

The law authorizes an officer to take preemptive action and use deadly force to prevent death or serious injury to himself or herself, provided that the threat assessment is reasonably made.