Warrant: Drug buys recorded weeks before black man shot dead

Kirk Rivers addresses demonstrators outside City Hall as they await members of the city council who held an emergency meeting on Friday, April 23, 2021, in Elizabeth City, N.C., in regards to the death of Andrew Brown Jr., who was shot and killed by a Pasquotank County Deputy Sheriff earlier in the week. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — North Carolina deputies who fatally shot a black man outside of his house obtained the search warrant that brought them there after investigators recorded him selling small amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine to an informant, according to court documents released Monday.

The fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. last Wednesday in Elizabeth City has prompted days of protests, calls for the public release of deputy body camera video and  civil rights leaders decrying  that warrants shouldn’t lead to a fatal shooting. Signs including emergency scanner traffic and an eyewitness account indicate that Brown was shot in the back as he was trying to drive away. Authorities have released few details.

Brown’s family had hoped to have a private viewing of the body camera video on Monday morning, but county officials indicated that would be delayed because they were working on blurring some faces in the recording.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II has said that multiple deputies fired shots. Elizabeth City police were not involved in the shooting. Seven deputies are on leave pending a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation.

The warrant released Monday was obtained by the Pasquotank County sheriff’s office and signed by a local judge to allow the search of Brown’s Elizabeth City home. It said that an investigator in nearby Dare County was told by the informant that the person had been purchasing crack cocaine and other drugs for over a year from Brown. The informant described purchasing drugs at the house that was the target of the search.

The warrant said that in March, local narcotics officers used the informant to conduct controlled purchases of methamphetamine and cocaine from Brown on two separate occasions. The warrant says both drug transactions were recorded using audio and video equipment.

The search warrant said investigators believed Brown was storing drugs in the home or two vehicles. The document, which indicated the search wasn’t completed, didn’t list anything found.

The arrest warrants, which were released last week, charged him with possession with intent to sell and deliver 3 grams of each of the drugs.

Calls have been growing to release deputy body camera footage of the incident, which is not public record in North Carolina. A judge must generally sign off on any release of body camera video. Wooten has said he would ask a local judge as early as Monday to allow the release of the footage.

State law allows law enforcement to show body camera video privately to a victim’s family. County officials said Monday they will show the video to family after blurring out some of the faces in the video to protect an active internal investigation.

“As soon as these redactions are complete, we will allow the family to view this footage,” Pasquotank County Attorney R. Michael Cox said in a statement. “We hope this occurs today, but the actual time will be driven by the completion of the redactions.”

Also Monday, Elizabeth City officials declared a state of emergency amid concerns about how demonstrators would react to a possible video release.