Community members and civil rights activists were furious after North Carolina officials on Tuesday announced they wouldn’t seek criminal charges against a group of police officers who shot and killed Andrew Brown, an unarmed Black man, last month as he sat in his car in his driveway.
“Andrew Brown was not using his vehicle as a weapon,” his attorney Bakari Sellers said on Twitter on Tuesday.
“The ‘contact’ was minimal at best and initiated by officers. He was beyond law enforcement when multiple shots were fired, including [a] kill shot to the back of head. Four officers didn’t shoot, didn’t feel life was in danger.”
On Tuesday, officials in Pasquotank County announced they wouldn’t seek charges and called the shooting “justified.”
“Mr Brown’s death, while tragic, was justified,” district attorney Andrew Womble said during a press conference.
A group of heavily armed Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Mr Brown outside his house on 21 April, in Elizabeth City as they attempted to serve him with an arrest and search warrant.
Observers following the case locally and around the country reacted with outrage and despair.
“It should not come as a surprise that the criminal legal system has upheld the legitimacy of another police murder of a Black person,” Kristie Puckett-Williams of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said on Tuesday.
“Communities deserve justice and accountability, but history shows justice for people of colour is rare in a system that was built upon slavery and has been modified over time to control and limit the lives of those who are not white.”
“Just sitting here at home watching American police descend into a residential neighbourhood, armed up like a military unit like it’s a war zone and blow a man away in his car ... to affect a ... drugs arrest,” added MSNBC’s Joy Reid wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “And the DA is saying this is all fine. I feel sick.”
Protests in Elizabeth City continued for days after the shooting, calling for criminal charges and a full public release of police video of the fatal incident. Mr Brown’s family compared the killing to a “modern-day lynch mob.”
Law enforcement and Mr Brown’s attorneys have offered different versions of events about how the killing took place, and authorities have not released a full version of police body camera footage of the incident to the public.
Mr Brown’s family alleges, after watching 20 minutes of police body camera footage in private, that Mr Brown sat in his car with his hands visible. They say he only began to drive away, taking care not to drive towards officers, after deputies fired the first shot.
“At all times you could see that he was not a threat,” lawyer Chance Lynch said at a press conference following the viewing. “At all times what we saw were police officers standing on the pavement, unloading their weapons. There were so many shots that we found difficulty in counting the number of shots this vehicle received,” he added.
On Tuesday, meanwhile, Mr Womble, the district attorney, said Mr Brown drove towards the group of officers surrounding the car, some of whom were armed with assault rifles, prompting them to start shooting. A selection of body camera footage played on Tuesday by officials shows a truck full of deputies arrive at Mr Brown’s house, surround his car, and begin shooting in a span of about 15 seconds, though it’s hard to discern the exact timeline of what happened when, and why. The first shot fired at Mr Brown occurred while his car was in reverse and at least several feet away from the police.
A judge has declined to release the full body camera footage, citing ongoing investigations into the killing. The district attorney also vowed not to release any more video.
“I’m not releasing the video, this is done,” Mr Womble said on Tuesday. “Anything in my office is not public record by statute.”
Publicly releasing the full footage has been a key demand from Mr Brown’s family, the community, and media organisations, who unsuccessfully sued for a full publication in North Carolina court.
“The police shooting of Andrew Brown in Elizabeth City, NC may or may not have been justified,” wrote Brendan Keefe, a journalist from Atlanta, Georgia’s 11Alive TV station, on Twitter on Tuesday. “What’s definitely not justified now is withholding the body camera video from the People. A judge ruled the video must be kept secret for an eventual trial that will likely never occur.”
The FBI is still probing the shooting, even though local officials have declined to press charges.