ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — One year after Pasquotank County made national news for the death of a Black man at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, leaders are hoping to be the first county in the state to have citizens review citizen complaints about law enforcement.
However, in order to do that, commissioners in the conservative-leaning county will have to vote to request the Republican-dominated state legislature to give them that power.
Thursday, April 21 will mark one year since Andrew Brown Jr., 42, was shot and killed outside a home on Perry Street in Elizabeth City as deputies attempted to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants.
While, the district attorney said the shooting — which was all captured on deputy body camera video — was justified, marches were led in the streets of Elizabeth City for weeks. On national news, protesters called for the firing of the deputies involved and transparency from the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices.
Meantime, relations between Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County became tense, with each governing body pointing the finger at the other. A lawsuit from Brown’s family demanding more than $30 million in damages continues in federal court.
However, Monday at the Pasquotank County Board of Commissioners regular meeting, many remarked positively about the progress made.
“I think we’ve come a long way in a year,” Commissioner Sean Lavin, (R-Pasquotank County), said. “I think we made some positive steps.”
Lavin said relationships between the city and county have improved and a joint-meeting between Elizabeth City’s City Council and commissioners did occur.
However, Chairman Lloyd Griffin (D-Pasquotank County) highlighted all the more than $60,000 in money and resources expended in the last year to improve relations between law enforcement and the people they serve.
Recently, the sheriff’s office underwent Con10gency de-escalation training known as the C.A.L.M. approach, which is strictly about de-escalation when dealing with an empty-handed force encounter.
The commissioners recently approved the use of ATLAS Body Camera software, which allows the sheriff’s office to view body-worn camera video from deputies and see how they are performing. It also will provide a built in training tool.
Both were ideas the Arizona-based Police2Peace foundation recommended in their recently released 30-page final report examining the community’s thoughts about public safety in the community.
Earlier this month, a task force named 13 members to the newly-formed Pasquotank County Citizens’ Advisory Council. Created by commissioners last September, the council will help bring about a form of civilian oversight to the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office.
The responsibilities will include: reviewing citizens’ complaints against deputies, hearing appeals/grievances from sheriff’s office employees concerning disciplinary actions against deputies and/or employees; reviewing internal policies and procedures of the office; participating in the hiring process, helping to promote public awareness about policing and provide input from the community whenever possible.
“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. “The implementation of the Citizens’ Advisory Council will establish an ongoing community presence to provide an opportunity for input and open dialogue with the Sheriff’s Office.”
Hammett, as well as Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office Maj. Aaron Wallio and Pasquotank County NAACP President Keith Rivers made up the task force that appointed the membership after several months of research.
“We conducted national research to review the composition and structure of citizen review or advisory boards in other cities and counties,” Wallio said. “Then, as a group, we determined what would work best for Pasquotank County and represent our County as a whole.”
Membership makeup includes: one from the four commissioner districts; faith leaders; an NAACP representative; mental health provider; attorney; former law enforcement officer and representative of LGBTQ community.
Still, some residents spoke out Monday night against the appointments and threatened that the new council could open the county up to legal liability.
Rivers scoffed at the notion.
“We tend to put the same or similar people on boards and committees,” Rivers said. “This group of citizens represents new faces and is more of a grass roots approach to move the county forward in addressing any law enforcement concerns.”
The next step is for the county to request the a “local act” to allow the Citizen Advisory Council to be allowed to access law enforcement complaints.
Only the North Carolina General Assembly can create that. Currently the cities of Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro and Winston-Salem have citizen review boards with the authority.
An official request could come from commissioners May 2.
However, Lavin isn’t sure how he will vote yet.
“There’s some fundamental things I think we need to take care of first,” Levin said. “You’re talking about a high level of emotions. The one year anniversary. I don’t want to rush things in place to be able to stand in front of the camera to make sure we did it in one year.”
Members of the council are:
• 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