- Bakari Sellersattorney representing the family of Andrew Brown Jr.
In North Carolina, the Pasquotank County District Attorney’s Office has found the April 21 police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old Black father, in Elizabeth City was justified. Meanwhile, Andrew Brown Jr.'s family and their attorneys have said body-camera and dashcam videos of his killing show it was an “execution” and that he was not a threat. Andrew Brown Jr.'s family has requested the full release of the body-camera video, and the FBI is conducting a federal civil rights investigation into the killing. “We are disappointed, but we are not surprised,” Bakari Sellers, one of the attorneys representing the family of Andrew Brown Jr., says of the district attorney’s decision. “The video speaks for itself. Show people the video.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
In North Carolina, protesters took to the streets of Elizabeth City after the Pasquotank County district attorney said the deputies who shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr., an African American man, were justified in their actions, that Brown endangered them by “recklessly” driving in their direction. DA Andrew Womble said the men will not face charges and will be reinstated. The prosecutor showed for the first time a portion of the bodycam video to the press, but advocates say it was cherry-picked, and calls are mounting to release all bodycam tape. Video seen by Brown’s family show he did not drive toward deputies, and an autopsy confirmed Brown was killed by a shot to the back of his head.
For more, we go to Bakari Sellers, one of the attorneys representing the family of Andrew Brown Jr. He’s also author of the memoir My Vanishing Country.
Bakari, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you respond to the DA’s decision not to prosecute the police officers, and what we understand exactly happened to Andrew Brown?
BAKARI SELLERS: First, let me say thank you for having me this morning.
We are disappointed, but we’re not surprised. You know, just last week, we wrote a letter to Andrew Womble asking him to recuse himself from this matter. We felt like the relationship he had with the sheriff’s department, working incestuously for the past nearly decade to bring cases — not only to bring cases, but his office literally resides in the sheriff’s department — proved that he cannot be an impartial and unbiased figure in this case.
I want to be clear: The shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. was unjustified. At no point was he using his car as a weapon. In fact, the two contacts that Andrew Womble points to that were made with the vehicle were both initiated by law enforcement. The first was an officer reaching out and touching the door handle when Andrew Brown backed up his car to move away from law enforcement. No officers were behind him. The second is when Andrew Brown turned his wheel to the left to evade and get away from officers. If he wanted to use his car like a bowling ball and treat the officers like bowling pins, then he would have just gone straight for them. But instead, he evaded them. And one officer reached out and pushed away. It must be noted that that officer who pushed away did not even feel like his life was in danger, as evident by the fact that he didn’t fire any shots. He was one of four officers who did not fire shots. And when Andrew Brown was beyond the officers — so, even if he did pose a threat, when the threat was no more, they fired the kill shot, which went through the back of his head. Andrew Womble had no explanation for that.
And the last thing is, if there was a question about whether or not they violated policy, the answer is yes, because their policy clearly states that they should not shoot into moving vehicles. That’s one. And two, if the question is “Are they reckless?” the answer is also clearly yes, because they fired an AR round that went into someone’s kitchen and into their Crock-Pot. They fired in the direction of other officers. And last but not least, they fired into an extended school zone at 8:20 in the morning. Andrew Brown should be alive today, but he’s not, unfortunately, because of the recklessness and, I would dare say, the cowardice of the sheriff’s department.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bakari, you and other attorneys representing the family have called for the court to release the full video. Why hasn’t the video been released? And what do you think it would show?
BAKARI SELLERS: I mean, we stand on the side of justice and truth. I mean, to be completely honest, I think that if — and we know this. All you have to do is look at the Ma’Khia Bryant scenario in Ohio. Look, if Andrew Brown Jr. was using his car as a weapon, I mean, I think we all know that we would have seen all the video by now, if he was running police officers over. Remember, no officer was injured. No officer fell to the ground. And no officer even sought medical treatment.
You know, most people say that lawyers, we are gamesmen, and we like to hide the ball, or we create facts, or all of this other stuff. Well, here we’re just asking for the video, because the video speaks for itself. The recklessness is evident. The video speaks for itself. Show people the video, and show people the SBI report. We will stand on those facts any day of the week.
AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] for an independent prosecution here, an independent investigation. And what would that look like? And how would the George Floyd legislation in Congress affect the case of Andrew Brown?
BAKARI SELLERS: So, you asked two really good questions, and they tie together in a nice bow. The first question, about an independent investigation or an independent prosecutor, we likely will not get that. And the reason being is because in North Carolina, like many states, particularly in the South, obstruction is codified. Look, we had to literally change legislation and go through heaven and hell to even gain access to the video, and we still don’t have it. You know, that is because of legislation. We can’t get the DA to recuse himself from this case. He literally has to recuse himself. There’s no manner, really, that we can go about to get him off the case. So, the attorney general or another district attorney cannot take the case. Therefore, having a special prosecutor is something that’s unlikely. We’ve set those expectations for the family. That’s one.
Two, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act does lower the standard whereby you can bring federal civil rights crimes against law enforcement who commit crimes such as this. And if this bill passes, then we do believe that we will have an opportunity for these officers to face justice. And changing qualified immunity, although we don’t believe that to be an issue in this case because they clearly violated their own written policy in this matter and in this case — and I’ll just tell you some of the sausage making when you’re doing these civil rights cases. When an individual is shot from the front, you know, you can have the reasonable fear or reasonable belief that my life was in danger, although we know many times that’s not accurate. But when an individual is shot from behind, particularly in the back of the head, going away, that is very difficult to explain. So we don’t think we’ll fall into the qualified immunity trap. But if we were, the lowering of the standard —
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
BAKARI SELLERS: — in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would change that, as well. So, you know, we want to change laws on every level.
AMY GOODMAN: Bakari Sellers, we want to thank you for being with us, attorney representing the family of Andrew Brown Jr.
And that does it for our show. A very Happy Birthday to Eli Putnam and Simin Farkhondeh. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Adriano Contreras. General manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Miriam Barnard. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.