As news of yet another conclusive investigation into an officer-involved shooting makes headlines, the Screven County case involving a former GSP Trooper remains an obvious outlier for prosecutions of law enforcement officers based on the use of deadly force.
On Tuesday, Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble concluded that the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. on April 21 was justified and the three deputies involved should not face criminal charges. The story made national headlines last month as part of the ongoing narrative on officer-involved shootings involving Black males.
Reports indicate that Andrew Brown was not armed at the time of the incident, but Womble’s review of the case determined that Brown was “attempting to flee when he aggressively “used his vehicle as a deadly weapon.” The district attorney said Brown’s actions, which included actively resisting arrest, led deputies to “reasonably believe” deadly force was necessary. Officers were in the path of Brown’s car at the time of the shooting and he reportedly had his hands on the steering wheel during the episode, according to body camera footage shown by the DA in a press conference.
The circumstances of the case may sound eerily similar to those in south Georgia’s Screven County involving former Georgia State Patrol Trooper Jacob Thompson. The stark contrast, however, is the District Attorney’s Office taking a position on the case well before the investigation was concluded. The GBI case agent in the Thompson case testified that District Attorney Daphne Totten was instrumental in the decision to bring forth criminal charges.
Unlike the Pasquotank case, Thompson was arrested one week and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault one week after the shooting incident that claimed the life of motorist Julian Lewis. Thompson had attempted to stop in Screven County on the evening of August 7, 2020, prompting a pursuit when Lewis fled, and culminating with a PIT maneuver to end the chase. When the vehicles came to a stop and Thompson exited his patrol car, he says he heard the engine revving and believed Lewis was going to use his vehicle to harm him. Thompson fired one shot, striking Lewis in the head.
Thompson was placed on administrative leave with GSP but was terminated due to the felony charges and subsequent arrest. He spent an unprecedented 108 in jail before bond was ordered in his case and attorneys for the Lewis family, during a press conference last fall, touted that he was the only former law enforcement officer in America that was behind bars while awaiting further court action.
Earlier this year, The Georgia Virtue reported on another exoneration in an officer-involved shooting which took place in January 2020 in DeKalb County. GSP Trooper Brandon Byrd was assisting an APD Officer on a stolen vehicle call when the driver attempted to drive speed away. Byrd was standing on the passenger side of the vehicle when he fired his weapon, striking Smyrna and killing the driver. After 13 months of investigation, DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston determined the shooting was justified and no charges would be forthcoming.
It is not uncommon for a vehicle to be considered a deadly weapon under the justifications for use of force. Police in Anaheim California shot and killed a man who used his vehicle as a deadly weapon in a confrontation back in 2016 and a similar conclusion was made following an November 2020 incident in Brevard County, Florida.
More recently, a GBI investigation and subsequent determination by the District Attorney’s Office in Swainsboro found that a deputy was still justified in using deadly force against an individual who was not in possession of a firearm, but was throwing rocks at the deputy at the time of the shooting.
As is standard in cases pending prosecution, the District Attorney’s Office has not commented on the Thompson case, but it has also refused to release dash camera footage from the evening of the shooting. Initially, supporters of the family of Julian Lewis called on authorities to release the video but those demands were quelled shortly after the arrest and have not resurfaced since.