Family of Black man killed by police agrees to a $3m settlement

Andrew Brown Jr was shot and killed by US police last year as he drove away from police during a raid on his home.

Andrew Brown Jr funeral
The $3m settlement comes amid a string of civil rights lawsuits following high-profile police shootings of Black people in the United States [File: Gerry Broome/AP]

A county in the US state of North Carolina has agreed to pay a $3m settlement to the family of Andrew Brown Jr, a Black man who was shot and killed by deputies as he drove away from his home in 2021, the local sheriff said in a statement.

Brown, 42, died fleeing a morning raid on April 21, 2021 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, a riverfront community where just over half of the roughly 18,000 residents are Black.

Deputies said they were serving drug-related warrants when they surrounded Brown’s BMW before his car backed up and moved forward. They fired several shots at and into his vehicle. He was killed by a bullet to the back of his head.

The county district attorney in May 2021 ruled the shooting “justified” and declined to prosecute the officers.

Brown’s family had filed a $30m civil rights lawsuit in 2021, saying the man died because officers showed “intentional and reckless disregard of his life”.

Mural of Andrew Brown Jr
Ulysses Edwards, a friend of Andrew Brown Jr, draws a mural in Brown’s honour at the site where he was killed in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the US [File: Jonathan Drake/Reuters]

Brown’s killing under unclear circumstances captured national attention and fueled a debate over the way police use force against Black Americans. The shooting sparked days of protests in Elizabeth City, a rural town in northeastern North Carolina.

Brown’s death came a day after the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. Floyd’s killing in May 2020 ignited nationwide protests over racism in the US and police killings of Black people.

The settlement is the latest in a string of federal civil rights lawsuits following high-profile police shootings of Black people.

In March last year, Floyd’s family agreed to a $27m settlement in a federal lawsuit by the city of Minneapolis. It was the largest pretrial civil rights settlement ever.

In September 2020, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, agreed to pay Breonna Taylor’s family $12m and reform police practices. Taylor was a 26-year-old Black woman who was shot dead by police in a botched raid on her apartment.

Brown’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten and the deputies in July 2021.

“I understand that there are no words I can say that will alleviate your pain. I do offer my most sincere sympathies and compassion to you as you continue to grieve the loss of Andrew Brown Jr,” Wooten said in a statement announcing the settlement.

Lawyers for the family said in the same statement that the money will go to Brown’s children.

“Andrew Brown Jr was a devoted father who wanted his children to have the things he didn’t,” they said. “While no settlement could ever fill the hole his death left in their hearts, this agreement is about providing for those children’s futures,” they said.

The settlement includes a special $1m appropriation to go along with $2m from the county’s insurance policy, which was supplied by the North Carolina Counties Liabilities Pool, according to the statement.

Black Lives Matter flag
Andrew Brown Jr’s killing ignited days of protests in his hometown in rural North Carolina [File: Jonathan Drake/Reuters]

The county’s payment resolves potential liability against the defendants and any individual officers who were either named or could be named as defendants in the lawsuit, the news release said. The family also entered into a stipulation in which it dismisses all claims against the defendants, namely Wooten and three sheriff’s deputies, as well as other potential claims arising from Brown’s death, the news release said.

District Attorney Andrew Womble had declined to prosecute the deputies, saying in May 2021 that they feared for their lives when Brown, who was sought on suspicion of selling cocaine, drove his car towards them.

At a news conference last year, Womble said that Brown used his car as a “deadly force”, causing deputies to believe it was necessary to use deadly force in return.

But lawyers for the Brown family said the shooting was unjustified because Brown was trying to drive away — not towards the deputies — and because he posed no threat. After viewing body camera footage of the shooting, they said Brown was sitting in his stationary car with his hands on the wheel when the first of numerous shots was fired.

A county medical examiner ruled Brown’s death a homicide. A second, independent autopsy commissioned by the family said Brown was shot five times, including once in the back of the head. Family members who were privately shown a portion of the body camera video afterward said Brown was trying to drive away when he was shot.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies