Body Cameras

North Carolina's Terrible Body Camera Law Blocks Important Information in a Controversial Police Shooting

Will the public ever see why deputies shot Andrew Brown?

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When deputies in Pasquotank County, Tennessee, shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr. while attempting to serve a drug warrant, the whole event was captured on body camera footage.

So we should be able to see it and judge whether the deputies were in danger when they opened fire on Brown, who was behind the wheel of his car at the time of the April shooting. But thanks to North Carolina's extremely restrictive body camera laws, a judge is refusing to release the footage to the public and is even restricting how much Brown's family can see.

Brown, 42, a father of seven, was killed on the morning of April 21. Police say they went to his house with a search warrant looking for crack cocaine, based on information from confidential informants—circumstances that should at this point raise any number of red flags with the public.

Brown apparently attempted to leave the scene in his car. What happened next is not clear. The authorities say Brown's vehicle made contact with law enforcement officers twice as they tried to get him to exit his car, and then they opened fire. Seven deputies were involved, and Brown was shot five times, once in the back of the head, according to an independent autopsy. The deputies are now on administrative leave during the investigation.

So far, Brown's family has seen only a 20-second clip of the body camera footage. They claim it shows an "execution" and that both of Brown's hands were on the steering wheel when he was shot. They say the evidence shows he was trying to leave the scene, not strike the deputies.

The public has seen absolutely none of the footage, even though Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten has publicly called for it to be released.

But it's not his call, nor is it Brown's family's. That's because in 2016, North Carolina passed a terrible law that exempted police body camera footage from the state's public records laws. Instead it gave judges the power to decide when and how much body camera footage may be released.

At the end of April, a judge ruled that the footage of Brown's shooting would not be made public as yet, despite the wishes of both the family and the sheriff's department. On Tuesday, the family will be allowed to see more footage of the shooting, but the judge has ordered that the faces of deputies involved be blurred so they cannot be identified.

When the law was originally passed, Reason warned that North Carolina's law would not serve justice. This isn't the only time that forecast has been borne out. In 2017, a judge blocked release of the footage of a teen's violent encounter with the police despite the wishes of the family and the City Council of Greensboro, where the incident took place.

The lack of transparency in Brown's case has led to protest marches, as well it should. Body cameras as a police transparency tool don't work if the footage is kept secret. The fact that George Floyd's death was captured on video, including body camera footage, played a major role in former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's subsequent murder conviction.

Not everybody who watched the footage came away believing Chauvin was guilty. But at least that was an informed conclusion. Something similar may happen with Brown. People may watch it and some may agree with the family that shooting the man was completely unnecessary. Others may decide that the danger to deputies presented by the car was actually real and therefore the shooting is justified. The point is transparency. The more the public is able to witness police behavior, the more the public is able to decide what police behavior is acceptable.

NEXT: New Lawsuit Argues That D.C.'s Ban on Dancing at Weddings Violates the First Amendment

Body Cameras Transparency Police North Carolina Drug War

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47 responses to “North Carolina's Terrible Body Camera Law Blocks Important Information in a Controversial Police Shooting

  1. No offense Shackford, but you guys at Emote! do not have a great track record on providing full context for your outrage porn stories.

    1. I dunno, when the police show up to issue a warrant and your own family says you were fleeing leaving the scene, it seems like opposing contextual fact patterns agree. But, who knows, Reason has fucked up narratives worse.

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      1. Yes, the drug war is stupid. Next?

        1. That’s what I thought, too. But now people are unironically called communists around here when that is pointed out.

          1. nobody calls you a communist for saying the drug war is stupid.

    2. ROFLMAO! From Snopes:
      Claim:
      Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by North Carolina deputies in April 2021, was a “known drug dealer” who sold to children and had a criminal record spanning decades.
      Rating:
      Mixture
      What’s True:
      On more than a dozen occasions since the late 1990s, authorities in North Carolina’s Pasquotank County arrested Brown for offenses that ranged in severity, from driving with a revoked license to intending to sell illegal drugs. At the time of his death, an investigator said officers knew him “to be a source of supply” of such substances for people in the area.
      What’s Undetermined:
      The exact circumstances of Brown’s past arrests and incarcerations, including whether he ever sold drugs to children or teens, were unknown at the time of this writing. Also unmeasurable was how many people or entities knew him for selling illicit substances.

      Oh whew! We don’t know for certain that he was selling crack to schoolchildren. That’s a relief.

      1. Pace yourself, mad.casual. You might have to carry that water a long way. Don’t want to sprint right out of the gate.

        1. I’m quoting Snopes. I thought they were between impartial and BLM/left-sympathetic. How is that carrying water?

  2. “Not everybody who watched the footage came away believing Chauvin was guilty”

    But atleast the 12 jurors voted to not have their houses burned down

  3. Doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, it will be politicized to keep the authoritarians in power, and if it goes to a jury they will be threatened to convict.

  4. ” That’s because in 2016, North Carolina passed a terrible law that exempted police body camera footage from the state’s public records laws. Instead it gave judges the power to decide when and how much body camera footage may be released.”

    That sounds terrible. At first.

    But let’s think about it: if the police are talking to a rape victim, should that body camera footage be a public record? Should body camera footage of minors who have been abused be public record?

    If the police had body camera footage of Nikki Catsouras, should that be public record?

    Should body camera footage of Officer Friendly taking a dump be public record?

    I think body cameras are a great thing. I think the footage from them should generally be available to the public. I would prefer that the police err on the side of transparency.

    But I also think that it’s not necessarily a terrible thing that at least some footage of people having the worst day of their lives isn’t available for everyone who can file a public records request.

    1. exceptions could have been carved out for “when the Po can just kill a man”

    2. Your hypotheticals are all valid considerations – which other states have successfully addressed without NC’s ham-handed approach.

      Literally no one is saying that irrelevant footage (rest room visits) should be public record.
      No one credible is saying that interviews of rape victims or minors should automatically be part of the public record. Pretty much everyone (except the police and the NC legislature) are saying that regardless of their viewability by the public, those interviews are definitely reviewable by the victim/parents and/or their attorneys.

      What NC did went far beyond rational restrictions on public records requests.

      1. “What NC did went far beyond rational restrictions on public records requests.”

        That may be the case, but I don’t think Mr. Shakford presents a good argument for that in this particular article.

        1. On the contrary, I think he made a very good argument for it. So far, “Brown’s family has seen only a 20-second clip of the body camera footage” and “a judge ruled that the footage of Brown’s shooting would not be made public as yet, despite the wishes of both the family and the sheriff’s department. In all your hypotheticals, either the police or the person being recorded (or their family) would have an interest in keeping the video private. In this case, all parties involved want the video disclosed but the judge is still arbitrarily prohibiting it.

          Finally, “[t]he lack of transparency in Brown’s case has led to protest marches”. How much more evidence do you need to decide that NC screwed up this law?

          1. It sounds like at least some of the deputies may not want the footage released, even if their department disagrees.

      2. The problem isn’t the law. It’s this judge.

  5. was he fleeing the scene to another planet?

    1. Apparently, reading his criminal history, this isn’t the first and maybe not even the second or third time he’s fled the scene with drugs in tow.

      Look, wrong house, dime bag, first arrest… I’m pretty lenient/tolerant, I could understand. But, armed men with guns continually showing up to your house because you keep your drugs there and you continually driving off in the middle or as they’re showing up? Even if they’re paragons, eventually things are going to happen and a gun that is pointed in your direction is going to go off.

      1. Until the WOD ends, this is going to continue to happen.

        1. I’ve got news for you, people drive off in the middle of arrests all the time. Repeatedly even. Ending the WOD isn’t going to solve stupidity and acting like it is undermines your cause.

      2. it’s not that you’re wrong, it’s just I’d prefer these stories not end in summary execution.

      3. Perhaps you didn’t know that NO drugs were found in the HOUSE or in the CAR or on his BODY. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have written such a dumb comment.

        1. Cite? It seems like that would be a pertinent thing to mention. If he didn’t have any drugs then why’d he run (and, auspiciously, crash into two police cars)?

          Again, all of this is for shit as Reason routinely publishes half-truths and lies about these sorts of stories all the time.

  6. How did he find time for all those drug deals and 7 kids?
    What about the dog?

  7. Was the guy shot in Tennessee or North Carolina?

  8. Great. Now how about a story on Ashli Babbitt? We don’t even officially know who killed her, much less body camera footage…

    1. Commenters above agree that fleeing with a criminal record is good enough reason to be shot. You’ll never peel off enough republican cop lickers or democratic racists for her to ever to get justice.

  9. Oh good, now we get another round here at Reason of “the victim was not a saint, therefore all the police abuse against him was justified”

    1. If everything is police abuse, then nothing is police abuse.

  10. Very first sentence:
    When deputies in Pasquotank County, Tennessee,
    This site is desperately in need of an editor.

    1. An editor?

      They have a shit ton of them, at least that’s what most every writer here has in their title.

  11. So what is the libertarian position on the due process rights of the cops who may find themselves the target of criminal prosecutions? Since the NC SBI has an open investigation, if they rule this was a homocide, then releasing the video will taint the jury pool.

  12. When deputies in Pasquotank County, Tennessee, shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr.
    But thanks to North Carolina‘s extremely restrictive body camera laws

    Y’all should really proofread your shit better.

    1. If we can’t edit a comment, then they shouldn’t be able to, either

  13. On more than a dozen occasions since the late 1990s, authorities in North Carolina’s Pasquotank County arrested Brown for offenses that ranged in severity, from driving with a revoked license to intending to sell illegal drugs. At the time of his death, an investigator said officers knew him “to be a source of supply” of such substances for people in the area.
    What’s Undetermined:
    The exact circumstances of Brown’s past arrests and incarcerations, including whether he ever sold drugs to children or teens, were unknown at the time of this writing. Also unmeasurable was how many people or entities knew him for selling illicit substances.
    https://wapexclusive.com/covid-19/ ,Oh whew! We don’t know for certain that he was selling crack to schoolchildren. That’s a relief.

  14. The article closes with, “The point is transparency. The more the public is able to witness police behavior, the more the public is able to decide what police behavior is acceptable.”
    Transparency…To protect all parties involved in criminal investigations (suspects, defendants, witnesses, etc.) all information is kept restricted. The “public” does not get to make judgements. Nor does it have a right too. By releasing any and all information during a criminal investigation you put at risk the opportunity to have a fair trial. You also put at risk the defendants and witnesses safety. After the case is completed and any verdict is rendered by a jury, then, and only then, can the “public” have access to all the information. To do so prior to that essentially means any case will be tried in a court of public opinion (mob rule) based on whatever spin outside actors want to put on it to their advantage.

  15. Imagine there has been an interaction between the police and an African American man, and he is shot, dead.
    The circumstances surrounding the death-scene show many irregularities and things that make no sense.
    Then the police tell you that, it not only was a legitimate shooting, but that there will be no investigation, nor will anyone be permitted to look at any evidence, do their own investigation, even mention that there was anything wrong, lest they be subject to all kinds of personal and professional backlash. You simply have to accept what has happened and will be punished in various forms, if you even ask to have it looked into.

    Then you’ll know how the disbelievers in the notion that the 2020 election was “free and fair” have been, and are being, treated

    1. What was the cop doing in Africa?

  16. When cops jump in front of cars to deliberately place themselves in danger they have every right to execute everyone in the car.

    /sarc

  17. “The authorities say Brown’s vehicle made contact with law enforcement officers twice as they tried to get him to exit his car…”

    Is that copspeak for…”Brown was trying to open the car door but the cops were standing in the way”?

  18. What is the point of buying bodycameras to ensure police transparency if the videos are withheld?

    Bad law, yeah, duh!

  19. No video (evidence), no “equal under the law” LEO treatment (qualified immunity) creates injustice. The laws that criminalize non-violent, non-fraudulant acts are unjust. They violate rights in the name of majority rule by force over all. Is it any surprise that elections are rigged? It’s just the politics of force & fraud, as usual.

  20. That you disagree with the “war on drugs” and believe meth should be freely produced and distributed (Brown’s career business), even if it creates a chemical dependency and inevitably finds its way to children, is immaterial to whether police can serve a warrant. The law, which most citizens support, is on the books. Brown himself had a long history of breaking the law, including resisting arrest. A judge signed off on a valid warrant. Brown tried to flee the scene in a vehicle which itself was evidence sought in the warrant. His family’s own lawyer admits the car struck two officers as he fled, which is assault with a deadly weapon. There is no reason why this video must be made available to the public immediately, and a 30-day delay while the state investigates the shooting is hardly a lack of transparency, and claims to the contrary are irrational and/or ill-informed.

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