FBI opens civil rights investigation into police shooting of Black man in North Carolina


The FBI announced a federal civil rights investigation into last week’s shooting of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man killed by police in North Carolina.

Also Tuesday, an independent autopsy report released by Brown’s family’s lawyers showed that he was shot five times, including in the back of the head. Brown was shot on April 21 by deputies serving drug-related search and arrest warrants at his house in the North Carolina town of Elizabeth City, about 260 kilometres northeast of the state capital Raleigh.

The developments come amid increasing calls for the release of body camera footage, including formal petitions to make public the video that will be considered by a judge on Wednesday.

The autopsy was performed Sunday by a pathologist hired by Brown’s family. The exam noted four wounds to the right arm and one to the head. The state’s autopsy has not been released yet.

The family’s lawyers also released a copy of the death certificate, which lists the cause of death as a “penetrating gunshot wound of the head.” The certificate, signed by a paramedic services instructor who serves as a local medical examiner, describes the death as a homicide.

Brown’s son Khalil Ferebee, centre, is joined by lawyers Ben Crump, right, and Bakari Sellers at a news conference Tuesday. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The FBI’s Charlotte field office opened the civil rights investigation into Brown’s death. Agents planned to work closely with the Department of Justice “to determine whether federal laws were violated,” the agency said.

The autopsy results come a day after Brown’s relatives were shown a 20-second clip of footage from one deputy’s body camera. Another family lawyer, Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, who viewed the video, said Monday that officers opened fire on Brown while he had his hands on the steering wheel of a car. She said the video showed Brown trying to drive away but posing no threat to officers.

Brown’s son Khalil Ferebee questioned why deputies opened fire.

“Yesterday, I said he was executed. This autopsy report shows me that was correct,” he said Tuesday at a news conference. “It’s obvious he was trying to get away. It’s obvious.

“And they’re going to shoot him in the back of the head?”

Shooting prompts protests, calls for transparency

The pathologist, North Carolina-based Dr. Brent Hall, noted a wound to the back of Brown’s head from an undetermined distance that penetrated his skull and brain. He said there was no exit wound.

“It was a kill shot to the back of the head,” family lawyer Ben Crump said.

Two shots to Brown’s right arm penetrated the skin. Two others shots to the arm grazed him. The pathologist could not determine the distance from which they were fired.

Brown’s shooting has led to days of protests and calls for justice and transparency. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The shooting prompted days of protests and calls for justice and transparency. Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II has said multiple officers fired shots but released few details about what happened. Seven Pasquotank County deputies have been placed on leave while the State Bureau of Investigation probes the shooting.

It’s not clear how soon a judge could rule or how quickly the video would be released if the release is approved. In similar cases, it has sometimes taken weeks for the full legal process to play out.

The slow movement has prompted an outcry from protesters, the family’s lawyers and racial justice advocates, who noted that law enforcement agencies in other states have moved faster. In Columbus, Ohio, the day before Brown was shot, body camera footage was released within hours of an officer fatally shooting a 16-year-old Black girl who was swinging a knife at another girl.

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