Protesters march along the streets to protest the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, N.C., Wednesday, April 28, 2021. On Wednesday, 85 days after Brown's shooting, the family filed a federal lawsuit, claiming they could not get justice in North Carolina state courts from local officials. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) North Carolina Protests Andrew Brown Jr. Shooting
Protesters march along the streets to protest the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, N.C., Wednesday, April 28, 2021. On Wednesday, 85 days after Brown's shooting, the family filed a federal lawsuit, claiming they could not get justice in North Carolina state courts from local officials. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Brown was killed in April by Pasquotank County deputies who shot him in the back of the head as he drove away. 

The Andrew Brown Jr. family’s decision to file a $30 million lawsuit in federal rather than state court is no coincidence.

A federal review of the case takes it out of the hands of local judges and District Attorney Andrew Womble. Family members and attorneys have been openly distrustful of Womble since Brown’s shooting 86 days ago. 

Indeed, family attorney Bakari Sellers acknowledged Wednesday that the family didn’t believe it could get justice at the local level. Sellers said law enforcement leaders can’t simply “run to Fox News” for an interview. They will be deposed in the case.

“We are here for one reason and one reason only, we are here to seek justice,” said Sellers. “For Black folk in this country, justice is a verb and this is that first step in action. Everyone has to come before a court of law and answer those questions truthfully.”

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Womble announced in May that deputies would not face any charges for the shooting, which made eastern North Carolina the center of the racial justice movement for a time. 

“This situation is definitely wrong,” Khalil Ferebee, one of Brown’s sons, said Wednesday in Elizabeth City. “My dad will get the justice that he deserved.”

Law enforcement-edited video of Brown’s killing showed deputies fired numerous shots at the back of Brown’s vehicle as he attempted to flee while deputies served drug warrants. One of those bullets struck Brown in the back of the head, killing him.

Womble said deputies were justified in killing Brown because his moving vehicle appeared to make brief contact with a deputy, although attorneys for Brown’s relatives say it violates the law enforcement agency’s policies to fire at a moving vehicle. 

The family hopes to leverage federal judges to subpoena a complete log of video and records related to Brown’s April shooting. Those records would include a completed State Bureau of Investigation review of Brown’s shooting. Under state law, SBI reviews are not public record. 

The family and members of the media have also bristled at Pasquotank County leaders’ resistance to releasing full tapes of the killing.

This way, said family attorney Harry Daniels, no county administrator, district attorney, or state lawmaker can block the public’s access to documents and video.

“Justice is upon us,” said Lynch. “This lawsuit was easy to draft because the facts in this case are very easy. Anybody can see this was an unlawful killing of Andrew Brown.”

The case claims wrongful death, excessive force, and assault and battery, as well as “deliberate indifference” by deputies. 

“This is not the wild, wild west.”

Despite Womble’s assertions that deputies acted appropriately, Brown’s family and their supporters have described his shooting death as an “execution.”

Bishop William Barber II, one of North Carolina’s foremost civil rights leaders, pointed out Wednesday that, during his press conference in May, Womble insisted deputies could not simply have let Brown go and catch him later. 

“That statement has haunted me,” said Barber. “This is not the wild, wild west, dead or alive.”

Although Brown had a lengthy criminal history, he had mostly been convicted of non-violent crimes and was not known to carry a weapon. 

The family’s case names all of the deputies involved in the Brown shooting, as well as Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten and Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie. The shooting happened in Pasquotank, but Dare law enforcement were involved in the narcotics investigation that prompted the arrest warrants against Brown.

The family is suing for $31 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Lynch pushed back against anyone who suggested the amount of the suit was high.

“We’re going to do everything we can humanly to make (the family’s) lives a little bit easier,” he said.

Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, an Elizabeth City native and attorney representing the family, acknowledged the demonstrators who have marched and demonstrated in the northeast North Carolina city ever since Brown’s killing.

“We still have to be here,” said Cherry-Lassiter. “We still have to live here, so we have to keep fighting.”