Members of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP met with Justice Department officials Thursday to request that they investigate the April shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr.
Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by Pasquotank County deputies in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as they were attempting to serve a warrant for his arrest. Nearly a month after Brown’s death, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble concluded that the shooting — which Brown’s family classifies as an execution — was justified, saying Brown “recklessly” drove at the officers on scene while trying to flee arrest.
“Mr. Brown’s death, while tragic, was justified because Mr. Brown’s actions caused three deputies to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others,” Womble said.
Nearly three dozen delegates of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP traveled to Washington, DC, on Thursday to hand-deliver a letter that requests a pattern or practice civil rights investigation by the Justice Department, signed by thousands of community members, clergy and lawmakers. They want the Justice Department to probe the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office.
Anthony Coley, a Justice Department spokesman, confirmed the meeting had taken place Thursday. The department has not announced whether it will open a pattern or practice investigation. To date, it has five such investigations pending.
The FBI had separately announced a federal civil rights investigation in April.
“The local District Attorney’s description of his interpretation of the law of deadly force as applied to the circumstances here, leaves our community with urgent questions about the commitment to government protection of Black people’s civil rights, and our safety in our community,” according to the letter, dated May 24, from the North Carolina NAACP to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.
While Garland wasn’t scheduled to be in the meeting Thursday with nearly a dozen NAACP delegates, Justice Department officials like newly confirmed Civil Rights Division leader Kristen Clarke and Gupta were in attendance, the Rev. Dr. T Anthony Spearman, the president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, said at a news conference after the meeting.
Spearman said the meeting — which lasted beyond the time slot it had been scheduled for — went “exceedingly well.” “They listened to us and were sensitive … we are leaving with a sense of confidence,” he said.
The Brown family and their supporters have questioned why the full unredacted body camera footage from the shooting hasn’t been released and Womble’s continued involvement with the case despite a request by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper for an independent prosecutor.
Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank County NAACP, says he wants to see the laws changed in North Carolina to where the district attorney isn’t the only authority to request for an independent prosecutor to review a case.
“We know justice will come in Pasquotank County and that’s why a pattern and practice investigation is important … once this investigation is completed it will bring structural integrity to the DA’s office,” Rivers said at the news conference.
Rivers said in a news release that they have “attempted every action to get transparency at the local level, without any cooperation. Today’s meeting in Washington will make sure the voices of the people of Pasquotank County are heard. Our community has lived for decades with a long-standing history of racial discrimination from law enforcement and government officials that must be addressed by independent intervention. Our community cannot rest without impartial justice, accountability and transformative change.”