by Eugene Daniel (WVEC) 13 News Now
As Brown Jr.’s family and community members march calling for justice, Pasquotank County awaits next steps for newly formed citizen review board.
The drive around Elizabeth City looks different than a year ago. Quieter, fewer people in the streets, through remnants of what took place on April 21, 2021, still remain.
“On today, I’ve heard many people call it the ‘anniversary.’ I prefer to say the continuation of the journey to justice,” said Keith Rivers, president of the NAACP Pasquotank County chapter.
On this day last year, Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr., outside a home on Perry Street. A team of deputies from Pasquotank County and Dare County joined to serve Brown search and arrest warrants at his Elizabeth City home when Brown attempted to flee in his car.
District Attorney Andrew Womble ultimately ruled the shooting justified, and the deputies involved were not charged.
The Brown family filed a $30 million federal wrongful death lawsuit, which is ongoing.
On Thursday, family, community members, local NAACP representatives and activists gathered outside the Pasquotank County Public Safety Building, where protests began last year.
“The community is still hurting,” said Rivers.
Though many in the community, including Rivers, claim there’s still much to change in Elizabeth City, there has been work to build community relations at the county level.
Pasquotank County Board of Commissioners allocated funding for an Arizona-based non-profit, Police2Peace, to review and provide recommendations for policing at the county and city levels. The organization offers grassroots solutions at the community level to address systemic tensions and mistrust between the community and police.
“The goal of the Pasquotank County Peace Initiative was to develop a practical, lasting framework for inclusive community engagement that reimagines public safety in the county, paying particular attention to strengthening relationships between all community members,” said County Manager Sparty Hammett in a statement.
Based on the recommendations, the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office partnered with Texas-based consulting group, Con10gency, to provide deputies with de-escalation training, called the C.A.L.M. Approach, which teaches law enforcement officers how to remain calm when they need to restrain someone.
Hammett said the sheriff’s office also recently started to implement a new software, called ATLAS, which allows law enforcement supervisors to review officers’ body cameras.
Earlier this month, the Pasquotank County Board of Commissioners also approved the creation of a Citizen’s Advisory Council.
“It is sending out a message from the county commissioners that they do want to make things better for this community,” said Rivers, who said the group serves a liaison between law enforcement and the community.
The duties of the 13-member group include reviewing complaints against the sheriff’s office, hearing grievances or appeals of sheriff’s office employees, participating in the hiring process and reviewing internal policies. The committee will also help promote public awareness about policing, provide input on new programs and initiatives, and provide input on current law enforcement concerns, according to a Pasquotank County release.
“If the sheriff’s department does something right, this committee will be able to say, ‘Hey, they did it right,'” said Rivers. “But also, it adds another level of accountability to say it wasn’t done correctly.”
Hammett told 13NewsNow the county still needs to seek North Carolina state lawmakers to allow limited release of personnel information related to complaints.
“A local act will be needed to enable the Citizens’ Advisory Council to review citizen complaints against the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office,” said Hammett on Thursday.
A local act is a law that applies to one or more specific local governments and can only be approved by the North Carolina General Assembly. Once that is approved, the Citizen’s Advisory Council will be able to access protected public documents and review complaints against the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office.
In North Carolina, only four large cities (Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro and Winston-Salem) have legal authority for citizen review boards to assess law enforcement complaints, according to Hammett.
A three-person committee, comprised of members of the Pasquotank County Board of Commissioners, the local chapter of the NAACP and Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office worked on the Advisory Council for nearly six months.
The CAC members include representatives from the four county commissioner districts, faith leaders, mental health provider, attorney, the local chapter of the NAACP, former law enforcement and representative of the LGBTQ community, according to a county statement.
The following are the members along with the area of the county they represent:
- Ben Barnhill, Northern Pasquotank
- LaShonda Dance, Northern Pasquotank
- Barry Doebert, Southern Pasquotank
- Walter Godfrey, Southern Pasquotank
- Robbie Goodman, Central Pasquotank
- Michael Harrell, Central Pasquotank
- Christopher Harty; Central Pasquotank
- Ashley Mitchell, Northern Pasquotank
- Scott Neal, Southern Pasquotank
- Jamaul Riddick, Southern Pasquotank
- Tony Spence, Northern Pasquotank
- Adam Swain, Central Pasquotank
- Angela Welsh, Southern Pasquotank
Learn more at The Peace Officer Promise.