As Elizabeth City, Pasquotank Co. lift curfew; commissioners throw support behind changing state body camera law

North Carolina

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — There is no longer a curfew in effect for people of Pasquotank County following the law enforcement killing of Andrew Brown Jr. — and county leaders hope the law that has kept body camera video of the shooting hidden will one day no longer be in effect as well.

The Pasquotank County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Thursday that calls on the North Carolina General Assembly to change the state law that regulates who gets to see video taken on law enforcement body cameras.

Currently, only a judge can release the video to the masses. The county resolution reads the law needs to be changed “to ensure transparency for the public.”

The meeting, which was held virtually, was the first meeting of the board since the Brown was killed by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies on April 21.

Deputies were conducting a drug-related search warrant when Brown was shot in his car. An independent autopsy showed he was shot in the back of the head.

Five body camera videos and one dashcam video of the incident exist, according to the sheriff’s office. However, a judge ruled against petitions to release the video to immediately release them to the community.

While the family was able to see a short clip and is expected to see all of the footage within 10 days of a judge’s order, a full release could not be considered for at least 30 days or until the State Bureau of Investigations investigation is complete.

Protesters have taken to the streets and blocked highways and bridges each day since the shooting and say they will continue to do so until the footage is finally released.

“We have heard the calls the chants, the emails, watched the protest rallies,” said Chairman Lloyd Griffin (D-Pasquotank County). “We’re listening.”

Griffin — reading entirely from a prepared statement — went onto say the board supported Sheriff Tommy Wooten’s request to have video released and was “disappointed in the court order.”

He said the reason to ask for revisions to the body camera law is to “improve transparency and ensure that the cloud of suspicion and rampant speculation that has descended upon our community would never occur again.”

Both Pasquotank County and Elizabeth City law enforcement predicted a “period of civil unrest” ahead of the potential public release of body camera footage in the case which prompted states of emergency to be issued on April 26.

The curfew that accompanying the order caused controversy among protesters and lead arrests and several nights of riot gear-ready police encounters.

The resolution said “the highly problematic Body Camera Law” was causing both the city and county to expend “a tremendous amount of taxpayer funds for the significant law enforcement resources necessary to maintain public safety.”

As of Thursday, Elizabeth City has lifted its midnight to 6 a.m. curfew imposed immediately, though its state of emergency is still in effect.

“Law enforcement should have the ability to release the body camera footage to the public to ensure transparency that the public expects today,” said Wooten (R-Pasquotank County).

State Rep. Howard Hunter (D-Ahoskie) whose 5th District seat encompasses Pasquotank County wasn’t aware of the resolution until contacted by 10 On Your Side but said he was “happy to hear it.”

Hunter is co-sponsor of a bill that would allow body camera video to be made available 48-hours after it is recorded.

State Sen. Bob Steinburg (R-Edenton) did not immediately return requests for comment but had previously said he “supports the current law,” aligning him with other Republican senators.

“The Pasquotank County board of commissioners and staff will work with local representatives and reach out to our colleagues and all local governments across the state to encourage them to support our resolution or their resolution supporting the change for transparency,” Griffin said.

No mention was made of Elizabeth City City Council’s request for a joint meeting to discuss the county response to the shooting. Multiple calls to Griffin Thursday went unanswered.

However Commissioner Sean Lavin (R-Pasquotank County) said he thinks it will be discussed as their next meeting on May 17.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Pasquotank County Board of Commissioners meeting was held jointly with Elizabeth City City Council. WAVY-TV regrets the error.

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