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Pasquotank County Sheriff: Public Should See Andrew Brown Jr. Video

Originally published on May 1, 2021 6:38 am

Sheriff deputies shot and killed Andrew Brown, Jr., in Elizabeth City, N.C., last week. One of their bodycams captured the shooting, but Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster blocked the full release of the video for at least a month.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten, who oversees the deputies who killed Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, told All Things Considered that he thinks releasing the video now will help people trust law enforcement

"More than what the video shows is that we're going to put it out," Wooten said on Friday. "And at the end of the day, if any of the deputies made a mistake, or if they broke any law or violated any of our policies, they will be held accountable."

In his order, Foster said the release of the footage now could compromise the investigation, but Wooten has gotten different guidance at the state level.

"I spoke with the State Bureau of Investigation who is actually doing the criminal investigation," Wooten said. "They advised me that they were good with the video being released."

The night of the shooting, seven officers were carrying out search and arrest warrants at Brown's home in Elizabeth City on a nonviolent drug warrant. He was fatally shot in the back of his head, per an autopsy report. After the Brown family watched the portion of the video they were allowed to see, they described the shooting as an "execution."

Wooten disagreed with this description.

"Execution is definitely an inflammatory word," he said. "I felt like that word is being used to really inflame the protesters in the crowds, and I do not believe that this was an execution at all."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview Highlights

On why the department sent seven officers to serve Brown

Every operation we take all information that we can get, whether it's the warrant, what the charges are. The person's history is looked into. The area they live in is looked into, and the search warrant is put out with that type of information. With the evidence that we had or the data that we had in the history in the criminal record of Mr. Brown — that was the decision made.

On how that night went wrong

How it goes wrong? Law enforcement, when you go call to call, as you can imagine, is so unpredictable and it's very difficult for anybody, much less law enforcement when you have to react in a fraction of a second. So it's hard to give you an exact answer on that and be very specific. It's just so unpredictable is the word I can think of.

On the completed preliminary investigation

I can tell you that a preliminary investigation is done, which you know. They still have some more to do. We have four of the deputies back on the job. There were seven on administrative leave, as you know. What I was going to say is just to ask for everybody to please, please, please have as much patience as possible, you know, so that the State Bureau of Investigation can complete the full investigation in its entirety. Because at the end of the day, it's so hard with the crisis that's sweeping the nation that we're dealing with it. We didn't want it to, but unfortunately, it hit right here in little old Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and you cannot rush these investigations. There has to be a very credible and accountable and transparent investigation in order to have true justice.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Body cam footage is once again taking center stage in a police shooting. This time, it's in the case of Andrew Brown Jr. Sheriff's deputy shot and killed him last week in Elizabeth City, N.C. This week, a judge blocked the full release of the video for at least a month, arguing it could compromise the investigation. A 20-second clip was shown to Brown's family. And the sheriff there, he wants the whole video to be made public. Tommy Wooten is sheriff of Pasquotank County, which includes Elizabeth City. And he told me today people need to see it to help them trust law enforcement.

TOMMY WOOTEN: More than what the video shows is that we're going to put it out. And at the end of the day, if any of the deputies made a mistake or they broke any law or violated, you know, any of our policies, they will be held accountable.

KELLY: What the judge said - this is Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster - he said releasing the video right now could interfere with the investigation. Do you not share that concern?

WOOTEN: Well, what I can say is that I spoke with the state Bureau of Investigation who is actively doing the criminal investigation. They advised me that they were good with the video being released.

KELLY: This is a challenging conversation for a bunch of reasons, not least of which we're talking about a video that I haven't seen, the public hasn't seen, we're not going to see for at least 30 days. But I do want to put to you and allow you to respond to what the Brown family says and their attorneys. When they watched the portion of the video that they were allowed to see, they said it shows an execution. That was the word. What is your response?

WOOTEN: My opinion is execution is definitely an inflammatory word. I felt like that word is being used to really inflame the protesters in the crowd. And I do not believe that this was an execution at all.

KELLY: I wonder if you can shed a little bit of light on the decisions that led up to the events of that night. When your deputies went out to serve Andrew Brown Jr. on a nonviolent drug warrant, you sent a SWAT-style team, seven officers. Now, I know you have gone on Facebook and elsewhere and tried to explain that. You've pointed to his criminal record. But - hang on. But a lot of people in the community say, OK, fair. He had a history of run-ins with the law, but not a history of violent offenses. Why send seven officers? What's the protocol?

WOOTEN: Every operation, we take all information that we can get, whether it's the warrant, what the charges are. The person's history is looked into. The area they live in is looked into. And the search warrant is put out with that type of information. So every...

KELLY: But seven officers for a nonviolent drug warrant?

WOOTEN: With the evidence that we had or the data that we had in the history in the criminal record of Mr. Brown, and that was the decision made to approach that way.

KELLY: And was there anything in his past, any previous violent offense that made you think there was a danger of violence now?

WOOTEN: Well, all that will - everything will be, you know, exposed or put out when the investigation comes out - very soon.

KELLY: Was a weapon found on him after he was shot?

WOOTEN: That would come out as well. And I would - if I could have one opportunity to, you know, because I think it's very important that the Brown family know, you know, that we just give our sincerest condolences to the Brown family for Andrew Brown Jr.'s, you know, death - and very tragic. You know, I support every one of my deputies, I really do. You know, as you know, they risk their lives every day. They work long hours. We all know law enforcement doesn't get paid very much money. And they want to protect our community. The deputies know that I have a high standard. I just - I feel personally really bad for the Brown family that they have to go through this. And I want them to know that, you know, and I pray that everybody joins in with me to let them know - to pray for them, you know, in their time of grieving.

KELLY: Sheriff, I guess I will put to you the question that I imagine the Brown family might if they were on the line with us. As the sheriff who supervised the officers who were there that night, how did this go so badly wrong?

WOOTEN: How it goes wrong? Law enforcement, when you go to call to call, as you could imagine, is so unpredictable. And it is very difficult for anybody, much less law enforcement, you know, when you have to react in a fraction of a second. So it's just - it's hard to give you exact, you know, an exact answer on that and be very specific. It just is - just so unpredictable is the best word I can think of.

KELLY: Yeah. I know a preliminary investigation has been completed. Can you give us any sense of what it says, when that will be released?

WOOTEN: Yes, I can tell you that a preliminary investigation is done, you know, which, you know, they still have some more to do. We have - four of the deputies are back on the job. There were seven on administrative leave, as you know. What I was going to say is just to ask everybody to please, please, please have as much patience as possible, you know, so that the state Bureau of Investigation can complete the full investigation in its entirety, because at the end of the day, it's so hard with the crisis that's sweeping the nation that we're dealing with. We didn't want it to, but unfortunately, hit right here in little old Elizabeth City, N.C. And you cannot rush these investigations. There has to be a very credible and accountable and transparent investigation in order to have true justice.

KELLY: Tommy Wooten. He is sheriff in Pasquotank County in North Carolina. Sheriff Wooten, thank you for speaking with us.

WOOTEN: Yes, ma'am. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.