N.C. Judge Jeffry Foster blocks release of police bodycam footage stating it "would create serious threat to a fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice!"

May 1, 2021, updated.

Brian Moore e-mails NPR 1A program host Jenn White challenging her program's emphasis on civil rights lawyers taking swift legal action in the North Carolina police shooting death of Andrew Brown, Jr.

Ms. White:

I listened to your 1A radio program from NPR today (April 30, 2021) with regard to the Andrew Brown, Jr. shooting death in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as well as your related references to the Justice Department’s new and increased efforts to investigate other police killings of black victims in America.

One of your guests, Toluse Olorunnipa, a reporter of the Washington Post, referred to the need for “swift justice” in this and other similar cases. He also expressed his disappointment that North Carolina Judge Jeffery Foster refused last Wednesday to release bodycam footage from the police officers involved in the death of Andrew Brown, Jr.

It is disconcerting that the civil rights lawyers involved (Ben Crump, Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, Harry Daniels and Bakari Sellers) and the black family in North Carolina, who the attorneys are representing, have also taken a similar “rush to judgment” approach.

The Brown family is demanding the immediate release of the police bodycams, as shown by their public comments and presence in the Wednesday court hearing. The family has already made available the official death certificate highlighting the word “homicide” in its determination, and they have already hired an independent pathologist who has released an autopsy report, indicating that one of five bullets to Mr. Brown was to the back of the head. The Medical examiner has not released an official autopsy report on the cause of Mr. Brown's death yet.

Attorney Lassiter has claimed that the police “ran up to Brown's vehicle shooting," and that Mr. Brown was "fleeing from the police." One family member (the son) stated that his father was "executed.”

According to a USAToday.com article of April 29, 2021, the family’s lawyers released a statement saying they were disappointed in the judge’s delay of releasing the police bodycams, asserting that “…video evidence is the key to discerning the truth and getting well-deserved justice…”

The article also reported that the Biden Administration’s FBI field office in North Carolina has now opened a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death and that the Democratic governor is calling for a special prosecutor in place of the local District Attorney.

Judge Foster’s decision to delay release of the videos was also reported in a Tampa Bay Times article of April 29, 2021, indicating the judge's concern that the videos contained information that could 1) harm the ongoing investigation, 2) threaten the safety of people (i.e. police) in the footage and 3) that any investigation would also have to be complete in order to possibly release the videos in 30-45 days. Judge Foster was quoted "The release [of the bodycam footage] at this time would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice.”

District Attorney Andrew Womble responded to Judge Foster that Attorney Lassiter’s account of the shooting was “patently false.” Mr. Womble stated in his view of reviewing the police bodycam tapes the footage shows officers shouting commands at Mr. Brown, then trying to open a car door, and then Brown made contact twice with his car making contact with law enforcement, in a backward and then forward movement, before shots were heard.

Under state law the district attorney would have to agree to let another prosecutor step in. Mr. Womble said in a statement that he would not turn over the investigation to a special prosecutor named by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.

I have to agree with Judge Foster that this urgency to release all or even partial videos and investigative reports to the public before a proper investigation is conducted and completed, would threaten a fair and impartial administration of justice.

I see echoes of similar conditions that occurred in the George Floyd case where a partial video of the event was posted by a young bystander on YouTube and social media for over ten months, for all the public and media to see and hear, prior to the showing of other videos and timelines from police bodycams at the Chauvin trial.

In the George Floyd case, we also saw what can happen when there is a premature release by the victim’s family of Floyd's death certificate and the family’s hiring of an independent pathologist to conduct its own autopsy by a medical pathologist, and that its report was in contradiction to the medical examiner’s official report. Furthermore, we also saw politicians taking prejudicial actions and comments, which could possibly lead to an appellate court declaring a mistrial. Even the judge’s decision to conduct the Chauvin trial in Minneapolis, where the death occurred, and where the local government announced a large civil settlement in the case for the victim’s family right before the trial, also smacked of premature prejudicial actions.

All of this made Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin the most hated man in America. The civil rights leaders, the press and the media, and the general public, immediately became "judge, jury and executioner." They concluded that this officer, Derek Chauvin, was a “cold-blooded murderer.”

These recent actions and proclamations, in multiple police-black victim shootings, by civil rights leaders, lawyers and families of the victims, reminds one of America’s dark history, in reverse order. White lynch mobs also rushed to judgment in the previous century, with no regard for due process, much less for impartial and fair justice for innocent black individuals.

I fear the reverse is now occurring in America. The police, who I have historically been critical of and have held them accountable for citizens’ loss of civil liberties in antiwar and social justice demonstrations, are now becoming the targeted sacrificial lambs of the country. The police are also becoming the new scapegoats for the racial justice movement in America.

Judge Foster’s words have double merit now. Early (premature) and incomplete investigative actions “…at this time would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice."

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