The family of an unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by sheriff's deputies in North Carolina says he died because of the officers' “intentional and reckless disregard of his life,” according to a $30 million civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Andrew Brown Jr. was killed April 21 by Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputies while they were serving drug-related warrants at his Elizabeth City home.
The deputies surrounded Brown in his 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.
“All individual defendants did so with shocking and willful indifference to Brown’s rights and with conscious awareness that it could cause Brown severe bodily harm or death,” according to the lawsuit filed in a federal court in eastern North Carolina.
The filing is the latest in a string of federal civil rights lawsuits in the wake of high-profile police shootings of Black and brown people. Many have ended in settlements that often include money but specify there was no admission of guilt. Some end up in court where a jury can award massive settlements that are whittled down on appeal.
The family of George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis police custody last year, agreed to a $27 million settlement in March. In September, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, agreed to pay Breonna Taylor’s family $12 million and reform police practices.
The lawsuit in North Carolina was filed by Brown’s paternal aunt, Lillie Brown Clark, who is the administrator for his estate. The suit says the 42-year-old was the father of seven children.
Defendants include Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II and several deputies. Wooten's office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Attorneys for Brown's family have repeatedly said that he was trying to get away and posed no threat to the deputies who approached his vehicle. Authorities have said he was using his car as a “deadly weapon" and caused deputies to believe it was necessary to use deadly force.
District Attorney Andrew Womble cleared the deputies in May. He said they were justified because Brown had struck a deputy with his car and nearly ran him over while ignoring commands to show his hands and get out of the vehicle.
The federal lawsuit is the latest fallout from shooting, which has sent shockwaves through the small city in northeastern North Carolina.
The shooting has also drawn scrutiny from outside law enforcement observers who say that police officers should not shoot at a vehicle when there is no other deadly threat besides the car.
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