Killing Andrew Brown: I have questions

What do we do about reckless, heavily armed, tactical police serving warrants against unarmed, nonviolent offenders?

On April 21, Pasquotank County deputies in North Carolina rolled up tactical to arrest a drug dealer. As the man attempted to flee in his blue BMW, officers opened fire, killing him with a bullet to the back of the head. The deputies were white, heavily armed; the drug dealer was Black and unarmed. The white deputies were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by the white District Attorney, who showed to the media, but won’t release electronically, multiple body cam videos of the incident.

The deputies were found to have reacted in a reasonable manner when the driver of the blue BMW refused to obey their commands. His vehicle was a dangerous weapon, they said, in the sense they could be hit or run over. In what I see as an admission against interest, the AP reported “Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said in a video statement Tuesday afternoon that the deputies will keep their jobs but will be ‘disciplined and retrained.’”

I have questions.

What kind of discipline and retraining is necessary when at least five officers, several of them carrying AR-15s, hop off the back of a pickup truck, surround a stationary BMW, scream orders at the driver to stop and show his hands, and when the driver continues at about three miles per hour (by my eyeballs at least), empty their pistols into the car? This all took less than a minute.

When pursuing a fleeing vehicle, even a stolen vehicle, many officers are now trained to let the criminal flee, instead of putting others in harm’s way. Let the radio, the ubiquitous license plate scanners, and other officers further down the road with tools like spike strips, pit maneuvers and roadblocks stop the car. But these officers, in a tactical arrest, decided to stop the driver by shooting him. That may not be a crime, but as the sheriff admitted, it’s not really good policing either.

Reportedly, the officers were briefed on Andrew Brown Jr. He was a known drug offender. The officers making the arrest were told that Brown generally didn’t carry firearms. He, in fact, was not armed. The police went tactical to serve a drug warrant and arrest a known criminal. He, as most criminals are wont to do, tried to flee. Instead of getting out of the way of the vehicle and letting the radio, roadblocks, and other tools of policing do their work, the officers in this tactical squad tried to block the vehicle from moving with their bodies, and tried to open the locked doors of the vehicle by grabbing the door handle with their hands.

To me, that’s just nuts. Why would the officers do it? Were they trained to block moving cars with their bodies, and then when the driver refuses to stop, to shoot to kill?

I don’t see evidence, from the projector showing of the body cam video, that Brown attempted to aim his vehicle at officers, spin his wheels and try to mow them down. He seemed to just try to drive away. Perhaps that would spoil evidence. Perhaps Brown would have thrown away the crystal meth he allegedly had (police say they found it in the car). Perhaps that would have damaged the case against him for drug dealing. But I don’t think so.

Brown sold fentanyl-laced heroin to undercover officers. The case against him was as airtight as it gets, when prosecuting drug dealers. These are the kinds of cases prosecutors love to take, because it’s one of those open-and-shut plea deals. But the officers making the arrest didn’t seem to get the message that whether Brown was arrested that day, or three days later during a traffic stop, he was going to go to jail.

It’s like the police came upon a man about to flush a bag of heroin down the toilet, and when he refused to stop damaging evidence, and tried to flee out a second floor window, they ran beneath the window, and as a brick fell, they shot him. Sure, the analogy is poor because they can’t claim he hit them with a car, but really, the officers didn’t have to get in front of a car to begin with. What kind of retraining do they need here?

I don’t know if the officers deserve to go to prison for it, but there needs to be a penalty for stupid, and in this case, I think the stupid goes much higher than a bunch of deputies riding in the back of a pickup truck.

Militarized, tactical police squads running around neighborhoods serving warrants for non-violent crimes need to adhere to a better standard, a higher standard, valuing the life of the accused just as highly as the lives of innocent bystanders.

What value is “innocent until proven guilty” when police can just shoot you for driving away?

This is especially troubling because the deputies are white, and the dead man was Black. I think there need to be questions, although I don’t think it’s right to approach this from the get-go as racist officers protected by a racist D.A. At least not without other evidence.

Let’s hope D.A. Andrew Womble and Judge Jeffery Foster decide to release the body cam footage from this incident. Perhaps there’s also video doorbell or other surveillance video of it. I’m willing to believe the officers believed they were in danger. But I’m not willing to believe their own recklessness was the cause; not without more evidence.

The question needs to be asked. What do we do about reckless, heavily armed, tactical police serving warrants against unarmed, nonviolent offenders? “Discipline and retaining” is not a good answer.

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