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The FBI opens a civil rights investigation into the homicide of Andrew Brown Jr. in North Carolina

Protesters march the evening after family members were shown body camera footage of an assistant sheriff who shot and killed black suspect Andrew Brown Jr. on April 26, 2021 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Jonathan Drake | Reuters

The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed Tuesday that it will investigate the murder of Andrew Brown Jr., a black man who died after police shot him dead in an arrest in North Carolina last week.

The announcement comes a day after Brown’s family lawyers, who were allowed to watch a 20-second video of his arrest, said the 42-year-old was shot in the back of the head while his hands were on the wheel.

According to an autopsy performed at his family’s request, Brown was shot a total of five times, including four times in the right arm.

Brown was killed by Elizabeth City Sheriff’s MPs while trying to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants. Seven of the MPs involved in the arrest have been given paid leave, the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office said.

“The FBI field office in Charlotte has opened a federal civil rights investigation into the police death of Andrew Brown Jr.,” an FBI spokesman said. “The agents will work closely with the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to determine whether any federal law has been violated.”

The spokesman declined to comment further, saying the investigation was still ongoing.

Brown was killed Wednesday, the day after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd.

Floyd’s death in custody reinvigorated the movement against police brutality against blacks. The Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation into Floyd’s murder, in addition to a sample or exercise investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced an investigation into the pattern or practice on Wednesday. On Monday, Garland said the DOJ would conduct a similar investigation by the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky that was criticized for the death of Breonna Taylor. Taylor was killed in her home last year after police entered with an arrest warrant and fired 32 bullets.

Brown’s family lawyers have condemned his murder and called for more footage to be released. Authorities have stated that they have asked a judge to allow the video to be published.

Based on what they’ve seen, Brown’s family has said that the police seem lacking a justification for using lethal force.

“In the 20 seconds we saw him threaten officers in any way, there was no time,” Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, a lawyer, told a press conference after watching the video, Associated Press reported.

Khalil Ferebee, Brown’s son, told reporters after watching the video that his father was “executed” trying to save his own life.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten has asked for patience while the investigation continues.

“This tragic incident was quick and over in less than 30 seconds, and body cameras are shaky and sometimes difficult to read,” Wooten said Monday, according to NBC News.

It’s not clear how long the FBI’s investigation into Brown’s death will continue. William Barr, the attorney general under former President Donald Trump, announced the civil rights investigation into Floyd’s assassination in May 2020. Garland said the investigation was still ongoing last week but did not provide any further updates.

The civil rights investigation into Brown and Floyd’s murders will investigate whether federal law was violated during these particular arrests. In contrast, sample or practice examinations examine whether police authorities routinely violate civil rights laws.

Under Trump, sample or exercise exams have been largely curtailed, although Garland has shown some willingness to revise them.

While the Congressional Research Service found that the Justice Department has opened three such investigations per year in the past, Garland opened two this month. The research service found that around a third of sample or practical studies lead to significant reforms.

In addition to the FBI investigation, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is also investigating Brown’s murder.

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