ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — On Wednesday morning, Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten sat down exclusively with 10 On Your Side.
Wooten has been largely missing from the public eye since Andrew Brown Jr. was shot and killed by Pasquotank Sheriff’s deputies last week. While Wooten has communicated some through videos and short written statements, his presence has been missed among the crowds causing protesters to paint “where’s Wooten” on signs and chant it down the streets.
During Wednesday’s interview, Wooten offered an explanation.
“I’ve been here. I’ve been here every single day. I can tell you we’ve been 100% inundated with making sure that this office is still running correctly, ” explained Wooten. “I don’t think it’s 100% advantageous of me to incite a crowd of  to 400 people. I don’t think it would have a calming effect … I don’t know that it would make it worse, but it’s just the unknown. I don’t want to make it worse.”
Wooten said he has spoken with the family as well as with faith and community leaders behind closed doors. According to Wooten, he wants to speak to the crowd when he has some of the answers and information they are desperately asking for.
“They don’t want me to go out there and say the same things they heard on the news day in and day out. I want to be able to address the community and have some meat and potatoes to tell them instead of the same ol’ thing,” Wooten said.
There have been calls for Wooten to resign, something he confirms he will not do.
“Absolutely not,” said Wooten. “The community elected me to do a job and I plan to do so to the best of my ability. I feel leaving would be a cowardly move and not be in the best interest of this community to do that.”
Wooten says he still believes he has the faith of the community and the sheriff’s office to continue to lead.
We also spoke with the sheriff about the controversial decision to only show the family a 20-second heavily redacted video of the incident. The video was shown to the family and their attorney five days after Brown’s death. The family wanted it sooner.
Wooten said North Carolina law allows for the blurring of faces in the video to protect the individuals’ identities and for public safety. Officials decided to blur the faces, which took a lot of time, according to the sheriff. Wooten explained their office has only one IT employee working with very old equipment. A process that may have taken other agencies minutes to complete took them hours.
As for the 20-second cut-off of what was shown to Brown’s family? Wooten said with heavy pressure mounting from outside the building, they made the call that enough of the crucial moments had been blurred for safety to allow the family to view the footage and that’s when they decided 20 seconds was enough and they would let the family in rather than have them wait all day to see the video.
“We wanted to make sure to give the family what they wanted to see immediately and in order to do that we pushed that out as fast as we can,” said Wooten. “At the same time we pushed that out to the community, we also pushed the petition and filed that so we can have the entire video.”
On Wednesday, a superior court judge ruled to delay the release of the video to the public.
Wooten confirms he has seen all the footage and wants the public to see it as well, unredacted.
“I’m extremely frustrated and I want this to come out and I want to be able to give everything to the community.”
The sheriff’s department has six video files of what happened to Brown when he was shot dead. Five of them come from four deputies’ body cameras, and another file comes from a police cruiser’s dash cam.
Seven deputies are on administrative leave because of the incident.
Brown’s son has called his fathers death an execution. Wooten disagrees.
“I feel like ‘execution’ is a word that really inflames people. I don’t agree with the word execution I can tell you I think execution is a little bit of a stretch and it inflames people.”
According to Brown’s family and their attorneys, the video shows Brown driving away from officers. However, in court Wednesday, Pasquotank District Attorney Andrew Womble said Brown hit deputies with his car.
Wooten did say his office has a clear policy on shooting at vehicles driving away.
“It’s expressly prohibited to shoot at a moving vehicle unless the officer’s life’s in danger,” Wooten explained. “And we don’t know now. When the investigation is complete we’ll see.”
Until the full video is released to the public, Wooten is asking for patience.
“I am working for you. Diligently. Tirelessly. To make sure transparency happens. Accountability happens and that we have peace.”
Wooten said he does support amending North Carolina laws regarding body camera footage to make them more transparent and easier to release footage to the public.