Pasquotank commissioners OK increase to sheriff’s budget despite pushback from protesters

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ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — Exactly two months after the killing of Andrew Brown Jr. at the hands of Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies, activists tried to halt an increase to the sheriff’s office funding.

Nearly 20 people spoke in front of the Pasquotank County Board of Commissioners Monday night, in some cases demanding the lawmakers reject Sheriff Tommy Wooten II’s request for a 3.7% increase over the previous fiscal year’s budget.

It was the first time in-person public comment was accepted since the shooting made national headlines in mid-April.

“That shouldn’t be even on the table,” Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank County chapter of the NAACP, said during his impassioned remarks. “The three deputies have clearly violated the deadly force policies.”

Rivers has helped lead marches that have occurred nearly every day since April 21, during which members of the community have demanded justice for Brown’s death.

Brown was shot and killed April 21 as deputies attempted to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants on Brown in Elizabeth City. The 42-year-old was shot as he attempted to flee in a car. Deputies shot at Brown’s car multiple times, with a medical examiner ruling a gunshot wound to the back of his head as the cause of death.

The three deputies who fired their weapons were cleared of criminal wrongdoing last month and cleared to return to work. One has decided to resign.

Wooten has maintained the deputies did not violate the department’s use-of-force policy when they shot and killed Brown.

Still, Rivers and others have called on Wooten to resign and for the three deputies that fired their weapons to be fired.

While commissioners have no control over Wooten — as he is an independently elected official — they do have control over his budget.

“They aren’t being transparent,” said June Gibbs, a longtime Elizabeth City resident. “This is not time to give them more money. It could be better used elsewhere.”

However, county staff said in actuality, the sheriff is seeing a $50,000 decrease year-to-year in his capital budget. The increases included are already earmarked for two new courtroom security positions, a state-mandated separation allowance, an across-the-board 2% raise for all county employees, and funds for rising health care costs.

The budget was approved unanimously.

Commissioner Sean Lavin (R-Pasquotank County) commented that in order to deliver on the public request for better-trained sheriff’s deputies, an increase in funding is needed.

“Any update in equipment or training for deputies. That’s going to be the way it happens,” Lavin said.

He also addressed the many criticisms lobbed at commissioners for not holding an in-person meeting following the shooting.

“We probably could have done a little better job managing,” Levin said. “But I know they want to be heard.”

Lavin said he is still hoping county and Elizabeth City leaders can put differences aside and agree to meet to have a greater conversation. In May, Commissioners rejected a request for a joint meeting.

“We need to keep putting the highlight on the things we are doing,” Lavin said, pointing to the county’s push to change North Carolina’s body camera law. “Together we will continue trying to work for the people of Pasquotank County.”

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