The Pulse

Andrew Brown Jr.’s family seeks $30 million compensation in federal lawsuit

By: - July 14, 2021 4:00 pm

The family of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black Elizabeth City man killed by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies in April, is asking for more than $30 million from two sheriffs and seven deputies in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Lawyers for the Brown family announced the filing of a Brown complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina at a press conference Wednesday. The suit claims that the defendants, Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II and seven of his deputies deployed to arrest Brown, as well as Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie, violated Brown’s constitutional rights when deputies shot him in the back of his head while he was trying to flee. At that time, Brown was steering his vehicle away to avoid the deputies on a mission to serve a search warrant for illegal substances in his residence and vehicles, as well as two arrest warrants for Brown from the Dare County Sheriff’s Office.

The plaintiff’s constitutional claim relies on a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case Tennessee vs Garner, in which former Justice Byron White wrote, “The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable.”

As Policy Watch previously reported, District Attorney Andrew Womble refused to charge the deputies, saying that the totality of the circumstance — that Brown could have struck some of the officers — justified their split-second decision to use deadly force.

“Womble said the case was closed, but that’s not how it works in America,” Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said at a press conference Wednesday. “Now it’s the time to put this matter in court under the microscope of the Constitution, and the law, and not just the opinion of one DA.”

Chance Lynch, a member of the Brown family’s legal team, accused Womble of misinterpreting the law and allowing impunity. Lynch said, “It’s clearly established you cannot shoot a driver while they’re driving away from you.”

Attorney Bakari Sellers said the family is turning to federal court after becoming frustrated with the close local ties between law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. Womble has sought the Republican nomination for a Superior Court judgeship in the First Judicial District, Elizabeth City’s Daily Advance reported.

Lawyers representing Brown’s family also demanded the release of unredacted law enforcement body camera footage, which needs to be okayed by a judge. Wooten filed a petition in May asking for judicial approval of the release. A Pasquotank Superior Court judge will decide whether to release the video to the public next week, according to Major Aaron Wallio at the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office.

Of the three deputies who opened fire, two — Investigator Daniel Meads and Deputy Robert Morgan — have now returned to work after about six weeks of administrative leave, Wallio wrote in an email. Aaron Lewellyn resigned from his position effective June 30, 2021. He used his paid leave until then. Wooten previously announced that the three deputies would be “disciplined and retrained.”

Wallio said the sheriff’s office has no comment on the lawsuit.

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Yanqi Xu

Yanqi Xu, Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter, came to Policy Watch in December of 2020 from the Investigative Reporting Workshop in D.C., where she combined data and reporting to cover public accountability issues. Yanqi graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 2019. Her multimedia work appeared in PolitiFact and the Columbia Missourian, and was featured on the local NPR and NBC affiliates. Originally from China, Yanqi started her career producing newscasts to tell people what’s going on around the world.