ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WNCN/WAVY) — Attorneys for the family of Andrew Brown Jr. have filed a federal lawsuit against the deputies involved in the raid that led to Brown’s killing in April, as well as the sheriffs for Pasquotank and Dare counties.
The suit seeks more than $30 million in compensatory and punitive damages for “emotional distress, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, and other pain and suffering.”
The lawsuit alleges wrongful death and excessive force by personnel from the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office. They were serving arrest and search warrants on April 21 at a home on Perry Street. As Brown was driving away they fired a fatal shot, but no one was charged in Brown’s death.
“Justice is upon us. Justice delayed will not be justice denied,” said Atlanta-based attorney Harry Daniels as he announced the lawsuit Wednesday at noon outside the federal courthouse on Main Street.
Brown’s family realized their only resort left was the federal court system.
“This family needs justice. My mother, who is 92, has been just sick,” said Lillie Brown Clark, Brown’s aunt and administrator of his estate. She is the only named plaintiff in the federal lawsuit.
“We didn’t feel that we get justice in the state court, so we had to come where we believe that lady justice is blind, and we will have all things being equal,” said attorney Bakari Sellers.
In May, District Attorney Andrew Womble cleared the officers involved in shooting Brown April 21 in front of his home. But now that it’s a federal case, the attorneys for his family will have the power of discovery and subpoena.
Attorneys Benjamin Crump, Sellers and Daniels say the defendants committed acts that deprived Brown of his constitutional rights by using deadly force, citing Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), The Supreme Court decision held that the Fourth Amendment by saying officers may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
“You cannot shoot a person who is driving away from you,” Daniels said, citing the case Williams v. Strickland.
An independent autopsy indicated Brown Jr. was struck by four bullets in the arm before the fatal shot to the back of the head, his family members and their attorneys announced back in April.
The DA said that the officers who shot Brown had a reasonable fear for their lives because he put his car in gear as they were trying to serve arrest and search warrants.
The attorneys, who held a press conference on Wednesday in Elizabeth City, are also bringing state law claims of wrongful death, battery and assault against all defendants, including unknown defendants listed as “John and Jane Doe 1-20.”
The judge in the case had delayed the public release of the bodycam footage, but attorneys and Brown’s family were eventually able to see about 19 minutes of footage. Attorneys say the federal suit gives them subpoena power to get all of the footage and allows them to depose witnesses in the case.
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said in June that two of the three deputies who were on administrative leave following the shooting have since returned to work. The third resigned at the end of June.
On May 17, Wooten said the three deputies who shot at Brown Jr. would not be fired, but they would be disciplined and retrained. Four others who were initially placed on leave after the shooting returned to work shortly after because they hadn’t fired their weapons.
Earlier that same day, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble said the deputies would not face charges because he said he believed the shooting was justified.
Womble said he believed there was a real or perceived threat to the lives of the deputies involved at the time of the shooting because “they were afraid of being run over, or they were afraid of their fellow officers being run over.”
The Brown family’s attorneys said Brown was just trying to get away.
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. The budget was approved unanimously.
Sellers says that will enable the legal team to see all of the law enforcement video and any relevant audio recordings, as well as notes and evidence, gathered by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
“Sheriff Wooten can’t just run to Fox News now,” Sellers said. “He is going to have to sit in front of us and give a deposition, and answer the questions about why his officers violated their own policy about shooting into vehicles where no one poses a threat.”