Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten said he plans to form a Citizen’s Advisory Council that would in part review allegations of misconduct by the Sheriff’s Office.
Wooten, however, told Pasqutoank commissioners Monday night that he will play no role in selecting the board’s members.
The move comes almost four months after Andrew Brown Jr. was shot and killed by three Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies as they executed a drug-related search warrant at his residence in the city on April 21.
A month later, District Attorney Andrew Womble announced that after receiving the State Bureau of Investigation’s report on Brown’s shooting that the three deputies would not face criminal charges.
Brown’s shooting death spurred daily protests on city streets and in front of the Pasquotank Public Safety Building and Pasquotank County Courthouse for three months.
Last month, the local NAACP chapter asked the Pasquotank Board of Commissioners to form a community review commission to investigate policing and employment practices in the Sheriff’s Office.
Hammett told commissioners Monday that while they lack the legal and statutory authority to establish such a board, the sheriff does have that authority.
Wooten told commissioners he wants the community to “be involved” with the Sheriff’s Office and that the idea of forming such a council predates Brown’s shooting.
“I am definitely on board with this,” Wooten said. “The Andrew Brown Jr. event was 100-percent unfortunate and it was tragic. Many individuals endured this, our county and our community endured this together. These are steps in the right direction.’’
Hammett said he has had ongoing discussions with Wooten and other Sheriff’s Office personnel following Brown’s death on how to make “substantive and meaningful changes.”
“The death of Andrew Brown Jr. was a tragic event for our community,” Hammett said. “It has caused pain. It has resulted in conflict. But it has also served as an impetus for review and contemplation.”
Wooten and county officials stressed that the Citizen’s Advisory Council, or CAC, will be representative of the county.
“Obviously, the NAACP will have a seat at the table,” Wooten said. “We want our council to be a representation of what our county looks like.’’
The Pasquotank CAC will be modeled after a similar program in Richland County, S.C. Richland is one of just 11 counties in the country with such a citizen’s advisory council.
According to the Richland Sheriff’s Office website the county’s CAC reviews and comments on citizen complaints, disciplinary actions taken against deputies and/or employees, internal policies and procedures and then provides the Sheriff with an objective viewpoint.
Richland Sheriff Leon Lott formed the board over 20 years ago and he was recently honored as the 2021 National Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriff’s Association
Hammett and Wooten are planning to travel to South Carolina next month to meet with Lott and discuss the Richland CAC, including how members of the council are selected.
“Sheriff Lott is known for community policing and community involvement,” Hammett said. “We are meeting with Sheriff Lott to learn more about his department, his operations and to glean from his experience in successfully creating a Citizen’s Advisory Council that has meaningful impact. “
Pasquotank is also planning to participate in the Police2Peace program, which is a non-profit initiative that was established in 2018. The organization helps to unite law enforcement and the communities they serve around programs that uplift them and heal them, Hammett said.
In addition to implementing the CAC, the initiative will conduct micro community listening sessions designed to engage with as many local groups, organizations and community members that are willing to participate.
“In the Pasquotank County initiative, the Sheriff’s Office will participate along with community members in a deeper form of listening and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard,” Hammett said.
Hammett said the county would extend an invitation to Elizabeth City for the city police department to participate in the initiative.
“If they accept, the effort will become the Pasquotank County-Elizabeth City Peace Initiative,” Hammett said. “I have reached out to them to discuss this but we haven’t had the opportunity to have detailed communication as of yet.”
A representative from Police2Peace will provide commissioners with an overview of the initiative at the board’s Sept. 13 meeting.
If the county takes part in the program, Hammett said funding will come from contingency money that is already included in the current budget.
Hammett said it could be several months before the county’s CAC is formed.
“We will make sure we put in place a process that the entire community is represented,” Hammett said.
Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank NAACP, wasn’t impressed with Wooten’s plan when asked about it late Tuesday afternoon. In fact, he described it as “another smack in the face” to the NAACP and other civil rights organizations “pushing for accountability” in Brown’s shooting death.
“First of all, you have to have accountability,” Rivers said. “If you want to move forward, we have to have accountability.”
Rivers said accountability hasn’t happened in Brown’s shooting death because the three deputies who fired the shots at Brown not only weren’t charged by the district attorney, they kept their jobs. He said he holds Wooten responsible for that.
“He wrote the (use-of-force) policy the deputies followed when they shot Andrew Brown in the back of the head,” Rivers said. “Those policies say when a vehicle is moving, they’re (deputies are) supposed to get out of the way of the vehicle. ... Those deputies violated that policy but they’re still on the job.”
Rivers, who previously has called for Wooten’s resignation, also said the sheriff shouldn’t be the one proposing a citizens review panel.
“He has lost the trust of a large segment of people in this community,” he said. “And now he wants the community to trust him to carry out an advisory committee?”
Rivers also took issue with Wooten’s statement that the idea for a citizen’s advisory council predated Brown’s shooting.
“This is the first we’ve heard of it. It’s the first that anybody has heard of it,” he said. “None of this got started until the Pasquotank NAACP proposed it to the county commissioners.”
Rivers said the local NAACP reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Services division, and the agency has said it’s willing to help locals set up a citizens commission to review sheriff’s policing and hiring practices. He said such a commission is preferable to what Wooten is proposing because local citizens, not the sheriff, would have a large say in how the commission is structured.
“We don’t need to be invited by the sheriff” to participate in a community review commission, Rivers said. “This board has to be about accountability.”
Managing Editor Julian Eure contributed to this report.