The amended lawsuit filed by the estate of Andrew Brown Jr. alleges that the Pasquotank deputies who shot and killed him April 21 were told that morning he was unarmed and not dangerous.
It also alleges the three deputies who fired their weapons at Brown did so as Brown’s vehicle was driving away from them. It further alleges that at least one other deputy at Brown’s house on April 21 didn’t fire his weapon because he didn’t feel Brown was a threat to his safety.
The lawsuit also claims that one deputy who did fire at Brown later emptied his weapon of bullets — before turning it over to investigators — to hide how many shots he fired at Brown.
The allegations are contained in a 37-page amended lawsuit filed on behalf of Lillie Brown Clark, the administrator of Brown’s estate, that includes details about Brown’s shooting that have never been made public.
That’s because they’re based on the State Bureau of Investigation report produced following the agency’s probe into Brown’s shooting. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys said they were allowed to see a copy of the report by the SBI.
A spokeswoman for the SBI declined to comment when asked if the plaintiffs’ attorneys had seen the SBI report.
“The SBI is not able to comment on pending litigation. Also, the information in our case file is not a public record so we are not able to provide those details,” spokeswoman Angie Grube wrote in an email.
According to the lawsuit, law enforcement officers held a briefing around 5 a.m. on April 21 to discuss the search and arrest warrants they planned to execute at Brown’s residence at 421 Perry Street. The suit claims Tyler Doughtie, an officer with the Dare County Sheriff’s Office, informed those in the briefing “there were no indications that Brown was armed and dangerous.” Meads and Lt. Steven Judd, another official with the Dare Sheriff’s Office, led the briefing.
Roughly three hours later, at 8:23 a.m., Brown was sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle parked in front of his residence at 421 Perry Street when deputies with the Pasquotank and Dare sheriff’s offices and the Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills police departments arrived to execute the search warrants issued in Dare County for both his residence and vehicle.
The warrants were based on allegations Brown sold drugs in Dare County on two occasions, once in mid-March and again in late March and issued by Dare County Magistrate Judge M.D. Hodges. The lawsuit alleges the warrants were unlawful because they included only Hodges’ printed name and not his signature.
In their motion to dismiss the lawsuit, attorneys for the law enforcement officers who shot Brown said the lawsuit’s assertion was incorrect; that state law “does not require that a warrant be hand-signed by a magistrate judge.”
The lawsuit contends that when the officers arrived at Brown’s residence, Brown had his cellphone to his ear and both his hands were visible. Even though he had no weapons or “propensity for violence towards law enforcement,” several members of the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office’s Special Operation and Tactics Team confronted Brown with assault rifles, shouting loudly and directing profanity toward him, the suit states.
Because Brown was “startled and afraid,” he tried to escape by putting his car into reverse and backing away from the officers, the suit contends. He then put his vehicle in drive and “negotiated his vehicle leftward away from law enforcement officers.”
“At no time were any members of the ... (law enforcement agencies) in any imminent threat of harm or injury from Brown or his vehicle as he drove his vehicle away from law enforcement officers,” the suit states.
According to the suit, Pasquotank Sheriff’s Investigator Daniel Meads was the first deputy to fire at Brown’s moving vehicle, firing 9 mm rounds from his Glock-17 handgun into the front windshield. As Brown’s vehicle continued to drive through a vacant lot next to Brown’s house, Meads would fire approximately seven rounds at the vehicle, the suit contends.
Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Morgan also fired five .233 rounds from an AR-15 Bushmaster rifle into Brown’s vehicle as it drove across the vacant lot and “had amassed considerable distance away” from the officers, the suit states.
Aaron Lewellyn, at the time a corporal with the Sheriff’s Office, fired approximately four 9mm rounds from his Glock-17 handgun into Brown’s moving vehicle, again “only after Brown’s vehicle had gained a considerable distance away” from the officers, the suit contends.
Two days after Brown’s fatal shooting, Sgt. Michael Swindell of the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office, told the SBI that he believed Brown was “attempting to flee” and that he didn’t fire his weapon “because he felt as though Brown was not going to hit him and there was no indication that Brown was armed.”
The suit also claims that Sgt. Kenneth Mitchell Bishop, the other ranking officer at the scene the day Brown was shot, told the SBI that Brown backed up 10-20 feet after he was approached by officers. After Bishop positioned himself in front of Brown’s vehicle, he said Brown “put his vehicle in drive and cut the wheels to the left away from” Bishop. The sergeant said he heard multiple gunshots but didn’t see who fired them. Bishop said he did not “see any indication that Brown had a weapon.”
The lawsuit contends Meads, Morgan and Lewellyn’s “intentional, malicious and reckless disregard” for Brown’s life and safety caused him to suffer multiple gunshot wounds to his right arm and a fatal gunshot to the back of his head.
After Brown’s vehicle crashed into a tree, law enforcement officers removed his body from the vehicle and placed him face down on the ground, the suit states.
During officers’ subsequent search of Brown’s house, the lawsuit contends Meads asked Detective Justin Corbell Langley of the Kitty Hawk Police Department to shine his flashlight on him so he could count the remaining rounds in the magazine of his handgun. In his May 13 interview with the SBI, Langley allegedly told agents Meads “was stressing out about how many times he fired his weapon at Brown’s vehicle.”
According to the lawsuit, Meads told the SBI that he “altered the weapon used to shoot Brown” while he was inside the dead man’s house “before his weapon was confiscated as evidence.” Meads admitted removing his weapon’s magazine to “see how many shots” he fired, the suit states. He “further manipulated” the weapon by removing all the remaining bullets from its magazine while en route to the Sheriff’s Office after the incident.
Meads also “failed to mention” what he had done during his first interview with the SBI, the lawsuit contends. He acknowledged it “only after it was depicted on another officer’s body camera.”
The lawsuit contends Pasqotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten, who’s also named as a defendant, requested assistance April 25 from the N.C. Sheriff’s Association for an outside investigation of Brown’s shooting, and that the sheriffs in three counties — Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell, Wayne County Sheriff Larry Pierce and Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance — agreed to assign internal affairs investigators to conduct the probe.
According to the lawsuit, the outside probe found that Brown’s vehicle “drove away from the officers” and the deputies who fired at Brown’s vehicle were “standing behind and to the right of” if as it drove away from them.
The lawsuit also contends that an laboratory analysis conducted later by an SBI crime lab determined that “the projectile recovered from Brown’s head” was fired from the AR-15 rifle Morgan used during the incident. A bullet recovered from his shoulder was not fired from Morgan’s rifle but “could not be identified or eliminated as having (been) fired” by Lewellyn’s or Meads’ Glock-17 handguns, the suit states.
That’s at odds with what District Attorney Andrew Womble said at the press conference in May when he announced he did not plan to seek criminal charges against the three deputies involved in Brown’s shooting.
Womble said then Brown was shot twice as the three deputies fired a total of 14 shots at his car and that the fatal shot to the back of Brown’s head was “tumbling” after possibly being “knocked off path” after hitting something inside the car.
The autopsy by state Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Kelly found that Brown received a second gunshot wound to his right shoulder-upper arm that was determined to be non-lethal.
“The bullet that was removed by Dr. Kelly from the back of Andrew Brown’s head fragmented,” Womble said. “When it tumbled, it hit Mr. Brown in the back of the head. It then splintered into three pieces making it impossible to determine what weapon it was actually fired from.’’
Womble said further investigation of the bullet fragments could possibly determine which deputy fired the fatal shot.
“A metallurgic study could possibly figure that out,” Womble said. “It’s not relevant to my decision and I didn’t need that information.”
Womble said Friday he had not read the amended complaint “in its entirety.” But he said its allegation about Morgan firing the fatal shot didn’t change his decision not to file criminal charges in Brown’s shooting death.
“Knowing who fired the fatal shot does not change my criminal responsibility analysis regarding Mr. Brown’s use of a deadly weapon, in this instance his vehicle, to place the subject officers in fear for their safety and the safety of others,” he said.
He declined further comment, citing the lawsuit.