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Andrew Brown Jr. was unarmed and fleeing when fatally shot by North Carolina police, family attorney says

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/23/2021 Kaanita Iyer and Joel Shannon, USA TODAY
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Officials on Thursday faced growing pressure to release details about the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man who was fatally shot by law enforcement on Wednesday morning in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Brown was unarmed, said Harry Daniels, the Brown family's attorney. Witness accounts paint a picture of an "unlawful, unjustified killing" in which multiple law enforcement officers shot as Brown fled the scene in a vehicle, Daniels said at a Thursday press conference.

"To my understanding, there is body camera footage to this incident, and it has not been released. A lot of speculation is going on — we're asking for answers, accountability and transparency," Daniels said.

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In North Carolina, a judge generally has to approve release of police video. Daniels told USA TODAY via email that a motion will be filed Friday for the footage to be released.

In a Thursday night video statement, Sheriff Tommy S. Wooten said the State Bureau of Investigation had the footage but he did not address whether his office had asked a judge to release it to the public. USA TODAY has reached out to the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office's for comment.

a man and a woman taking a selfie: Glenda Brown Thomas displays a photo of her nephew, Andrew Brown Jr., on her cellphone on Thursday. © Allen G. Breed, AP Glenda Brown Thomas displays a photo of her nephew, Andrew Brown Jr., on her cellphone on Thursday.

"The issue will likely come down to whether our deputies had reason to believe Mr. Brown's actions put them at risk for serious injury or death. We will not offer an opinion on this because we do not have all the facts," Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg said in the video statement.

Gathering all the facts in the case "may take some time," Wooten said.

For some, the sense of relief brought by the guilty verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday in the death of George Floyd was short-lived. Reports of more police killings emerged just hours later, including that of Brown and 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant, fatally shot by police officers in Columbus, Ohio.

Crowds of people gathered again Thursday night to demand more information about the circumstances surrounding Brown's death in Elizabeth City, about 170 miles northeast of Raleigh.

What happened?

The deputies, who have not been identified, were serving an arrest warrant surrounding felony drug charges at Brown's rental home Wednesday when Brown was fatally shot, according to Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office.

According to a witness, Brown was trying to drive away when the shooting happened.

Fogg said officers from another agency and the local version of a SWAT team were involved because "Mr. Brown was a convicted felon with a history of resisting arrest." The circumstances led police to believe there was a "high risk of danger" according to their training, Fogg said.

On the day before the shooting, nearby Dare County had issued two arrest warrants for Brown on drug-related charges including possession with intent to sell cocaine, according to court documents released Thursday.

Demetria Williams, Brown's neighbor, told the Associated Press she ran outside after hearing a gunshot and then saw the deputy firing multiple times at Brown. She also said the car skidded from Brown's yard and hit a tree. 

“When they opened the door, he was already dead,” Williams said. “He was slumped over.” She said officers attempted chest compressions on Brown. 

Authorities removed a car from the scene that appeared to have multiple bullet holes and a broken rear windshield, the Associated Press reported. 

"To my understanding, Mr. Brown was not armed, and the bullets entered into the back of the vehicle, as though he was leaving the scene," Daniels, Brown's family attorney, said. "Based on the witnesses that said that he was not armed and he was fleeing, that is not lawful."

Daniels said he believes three deputies fired their weapons and all are on administrative leave.

What are protesters asking for? 

Signs reading "Release the video" and "We want the truth," could be seen in a crowd of protesters who gathered Thursday night for a second evening of protests, according to a photo tweeted by a News & Observer reporter.

Live-streamed video from Thursday night's demonstration showed a crowd of protesters raising their fists while blocking an intersection. At one point it appears protesters placed signs including one reading "Black voters matter" on the windshield of a parked police car as music played.

The city's public schools said it was implementing remote learning Thursday "due to community concern and out of an abundance of caution," though it did not explicitly cite protests. 

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Who was Andrew Brown Jr.? 

Brown, 42, was quick to crack a joke and had an easy smile, despite hardship, loss and troubles with the law, his relatives said.

He encouraged his children to make good grades even though he dropped out of high school himself. Above all, he was determined to give them a better life than he had, they said.

Brown was partially paralyzed on his right side by an accidental shooting, and he lost an eye when he was stabbed, according to aunt Glenda Brown Thomas — “Drew,” as he was called, looked for the humor in things.

“He had a good laugh, a nice smile. And he had good dimples," Thomas said in an interview Thursday, a day after her nephew was killed. “You know, when he’s talking and smiling, his dimples would always show. And he was kind of like a comedian. He always had a nice joke.”

Court records show Brown had a history of criminal charges stretching back into the 1990s, including a misdemeanor drug possession conviction and some pending felony drug charges.

Brown had seven children, according to Daniels, and took care of others who were not his own. In an email to USA TODAY, Daniels confirmed he represented five of Brown's children, who are minors. 

Contributing: The Associated Press 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Andrew Brown Jr. was unarmed and fleeing when fatally shot by North Carolina police, family attorney says

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