PASQUOTANK COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — For two months, demonstrators have taken to the streets in Elizabeth City to demand transparency in the death of Andrew Brown Jr., who was shot and killed by Pasquotank County deputies in April.
Now, the Pasquotank sheriff says his department will no longer assist city police with managing the protests.
Sheriff Tommy Wooten II released a statement Wednesday saying Elizabeth City’s continued issuance of permits for demonstrations has “allowed and encouraged daily protests by a very small group of our community to hinder the lives of our citizens.”
Wooten, who was elected in 2018, said it is law enforcement’s duty to ensure and protect people’s constitutional rights. However, he does not believe the First Amendment’s protection of the right to peaceably assemble includes allowing people to block roadways.
“[N]or does it provide the right to a law enforcement escort,” Wooten wrote.
The sheriff’s decision to pull back is effective Saturday, June 26.
The sheriff called Brown’s death a tragedy and said it “caused an array of emotions throughout our community and our office.” Brown was shot and killed April 21 as deputies attempted to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants at a Perry Street home.
He was shot as he attempted to drive his car away from deputies.
Since the shooting, seven deputies were placed on administrative leave: four returned to work soon after the shooting, and three who fired their weapons were later approved to come back after the district attorney said they would not face criminal charges. One of the deputies who shot at Brown has since resigned.
After District Attorney Andrew Womble said he determined the shooting was justified on May 17, Wooten said the three deputies who shot their service weapons would be disciplined and retrained, but not fired. He said he did not believe the deputies did not violate the department’s use-of-force policy.
Wooten has also filed a petition in the Pasquotank Superior Court asking a judge to order the public release of body camera footage from the shooting.
Still, protesters have called on Wooten to resign and the three deputies to be fired.
In Wednesday’s statement, Wooten said it was time to look ahead to the sheriff’s office’s future direction, which includes resuming “normal operations.”
“I understand that the Office and I need to work and focus on rebuilding relationships within our community; trust between law enforcement and its community is paramount,” Wooten said.
Wooten said he has informed Elizabeth City Police Chief Eddie Buffaloe of his decision to no longer assist with escorting protesters.
He said the sheriff’s office will continue to support Elizabeth City police during major events and other situations that involve law enforcement and overall public safety.
Wooten finished the statement: “During these challenging times, our Office has received a tremendous amount of support from our community members, which we greatly appreciate. Our Office would like to thank everyone who has either reached out to us or provided support in any way. I would also like to thank those who offered constructive criticism; your message has not fallen on deaf ears. I am proud to be your Sheriff and I look forward to continuing my service to the citizens of Pasquotank County and Elizabeth City. Thank you and God Bless!”