We previously discussed the shooting of Andrew Brown, 42, one of a number of recent police shootings sparking protests. The body camera footage has now been released with a decision not to charge any officer. The finding of a justified shooting is based on facts that are sharply different from those reported at the time in media coverage. It appears that Brown did come into contact with officers with his car, though Brown appears to be trying to evade the officers who surrounded the car. The Brown family previously declared that the videotape showed that he did not drive toward the deputies which now does not appear to be the case.
District Attorney Andrew Womble said that Brown was shot at by three Pasquotank deputies who were justified in the use of lethal force “to protect themselves and others.” The evidence presented included four body camera videos showing Brown refusing to heed repeated warnings to stop and then driving his car directly at one of the officers. The first round was fired from the front of the vehicle, not the back as widely reported.
The actions unfold quickly. It seems to me that Brown was clearly fleeing and that his movements with the car were efforts to escape. It did not seem that he was necessarily trying to run over deputies but he did accelerate in their direction.
Here is Womble’s account:
Deputy Lunsford’s hand was still on the driver’s door handle as Brown’s car reversed and the handle was 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 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 of the front left tire of Brown’s vehicle, and law enforcement commands became more heated with profanity shouted 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. 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.
While the deputies were trying to serve arrest warrants and carry out a drug-related search, Womble also revealed that Brown had sold drugs to an undercover officer. The deputies were briefed on Brown’s history of resisting arrest and charges of assault, assault with a deadly weapon and assault causing serious injury convictions dating back to 1995.
The use of lethal force was tied to the use of the car to strike officers. When one deputy tried to open Brown’s door, Brown threw the car into reverse. The officer ended up on the hood of the car. Then Brown drove the car forward and directly at the officer. The deputy pushed off the car to avoid being run over. The car came into contact with a second officer.
The first shot went through the windshield followed by shots through the side windows. Shots then were fired from behind as the car speeded directly toward an officer in a car.
As I discussed earlier, reports of such contacts could be treated as the use of a car as a lethal weapon. Courts have ruled that a car that makes contact with officers is a basis for the justified use of lethal force. See, e.g., In Thomas v. Durastanti, 607 F.3d 655 (10th Cir. 2010) and Jenkins v. Bartlett, 487 F.3d 482 (7th Cir. 2007).
Womble followed such cases in declaring
“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 put their lives in danger. Brown’s actions and conduct were indeed dangerous by the time of the shooting… Brown posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and others.”
There is still no written report but the finding may push the family ahead with a civil lawsuit. However, the videotape offers a defense for the officers and the city.