ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (NewsNation Now) — A North Carolina deputy shot and killed a Black man while executing a search warrant Wednesday, authorities said, spurring an outcry from a crowd of dozens that immediately gathered at the scene and demanded law enforcement accountability.
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said at a news conference that a deputy from his department shot Andrew Brown Jr. while serving the warrant with the assistance of another nearby sheriff’s office about 8:30 a.m.
The deputy was placed on leave pending a review by the State Bureau of Investigation. Local NAACP leader Keith Rivers said Brown was Black.
An eyewitness said that a man, identified as Andrew Brown Jr., was shot while trying to drive away from deputies serving the warrant. The car skidded out of Brown’s yard and eventually hit a tree, said Demetria Williams, who lives on the same street.
Williams said after hearing one gunshot, she ran outside, where she saw other shots being fired at the car.
“When they opened the door (to the car) he was already dead,” Williams told The Associated Press. “He was slumped over.” She said officers tried to perform chest compressions on him.
Neighbors say they heard anywhere from 6 to 8 shots. Wooten declined at a news conference to say how many shots were fired.
He said that the deputy was wearing a body camera. It could take time for that video to be released since releasing such footage requires a judge’s approval in North Carolina. Wooten also did not say what the warrant was for.
A car that authorities removed from the scene appeared to have multiple bullet holes and a broken rear windshield.
Court records show Brown had a history of drug charges and a misdemeanor drug possession conviction. Brown’s family says he did not carry a gun and didn’t hurt anyone. He was the father of 10 children.
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has been called in to take over the investigation.
During the news briefing, District Attorney Andrew Womble said that they want “accurate answers, not fast answers.”
A crowd gathered around the shooting scene in the city of nearly 18,000, located 170 miles northeast of Raleigh.
Brown’s grandmother, Lydia Brown, and his aunt, Clarissa Brown Gibson, told The Associated Press that they learned about his death through a TV news report. Both said they want the shooting thoroughly investigated.
“We want to know if he was served with a warrant, why the shooting over a warrant?” Clarissa Brown Gibson said.
“Why? I mean, we want to know why would they not take the proper procedures in dealing with this instead of opening fire to an unarmed man,” said Ebony Hockaday, a family friend.
“The police didn’t have to shoot my baby,” said McCullen, an aunt of Brown who said she raised him after his parents died. McCullen stood on the stoop of Brown’s rental home, her eyes filled with emotion.
“Andrew Brown was a good person,” she said. “He was about to get his kids back. He was a good father. Now his kids won’t never see him again.”
Rivers called for an independent investigation into the shooting and criticized the sheriff’s office for taking hours to release details, even after a crowd of about 100 people gathered near the scene.
“When is it going to stop? We just got a verdict yesterday,” Rivers said in a phone interview, referring to the guilty verdicts handed down Tuesday in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the fatal death of George Floyd. “Is it open season now? At some point, it has to stop. We have to start holding the people in charge accountable.”
In September, the Pasquotank Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of the county’s first 33 body-worn cameras for deputies. It’s unclear if deputies have been issued the cameras yet.
“If the body cameras were on that information needs to be disseminated as quickly as possible in order to make sure justice is served,” said Rivers.
Rivers emphasized how the situation as tense and said law enforcement after the shooting acted like they were in “riot mode.”
“The sheriff has not spoken to anyone out here … this is not the Elizabeth City Police Department, this is the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Department,” Rivers said. “The sheriff needs to address these people. The sheriff needs to talk to community leaders to let us know what is going on so that we can be a part of this process.”
A large crowd later stood outside City Hall while the City Council held an emergency meeting, some holding signs proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop killing unarmed Black men.” As the evening wore on, a group gathered in the parking lot of the sheriff’s office and a crowd that grew to more than 200 blocked traffic on a main thoroughfare of the city, forcing cars to turn around.
Councilman Gabriel Adkins told his colleagues that businesses in the neighborhood of the shooting had begun boarding up their windows in anticipation of violence.
“I’m afraid as a Black man,” an emotional Adkins said, as a crowd of more than 100 people gathered outside the meeting, which is closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic. Later he added, “It hurts to be a Black man at this time. … We’re hurting.”
Councilman Darius Horton called for the immediate release of bodycam footage, the search warrant and a speedy explanation of what led to the shooting.
“We need transparency. And not only do we need transparency, but we need accountability,” he said. “We need answers. … Let’s not hide behind anything.”
Williams, the eyewitness who also was among those demonstrating outside City Hall on Wednesday evening, said Brown, who was known by neighbors as “Drew,” wasn’t a violent person.
“I didn’t believe that (officers) really did that because he wasn’t a threat to them. He was driving off even though he was trying to get away,” Williams said.
Elizabeth City is located near where the Pasquotank River empties into the Albemarle Sound. It is home to a U.S. Coast Guard air station, Elizabeth City State University and a medical center, all of which support numerous jobs. The city’s population is more than 50% Black and about 40% white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 23% of residents live in poverty.
NewsNation affiliate WAVY and The Associated Press contributed to this report