ELIZABETH CITY, N.C., April 27 (Reuters) - Lawyers for the family of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man killed by law enforcement last week in North Carolina, said an independent autopsy showed he died from a "kill shot" to the back of his head, as the FBI on Tuesday opened a civil rights probe of the shooting.
Governor Roy Cooper later called for appointment of a special prosecutor to take over the state's investigation of last Wednesday's shooting.
Brown, 42, was struck with four bullets to his right arm before the fatal shot penetrated the rear of his skull as he tried to drive away, the lawyers for his family told a news conference in Elizabeth City, a riverfront community near the Virginia border where the shooting took place.
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten has said his deputies were trying to serve Brown with search and arrest warrants stemming from a felony drug charge and that the incident was over in fewer than 30 seconds.
He has urged the public to reserve judgment until all evidence is reviewed by the State Bureau of Investigation, which opened an inquiry on the shooting at Wooten's request. Seven sheriff's deputies involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave, Wooten's office said last week.
An official autopsy has yet to be released, though the death certificate had indicated Brown died of a gunshot to the head.
"It was a 'kill' shot to the back of the head," said attorney Ben Crump, citing the private autopsy conducted by Brent Hall, a former medical examiner in Boone, North Carolina. "It went into the base of the neck, bottom of the skull and got lost in his brain. That was the cause of death."
Shortly after the news conference, the FBI's Charlotte Field Office announced that it has opened a federal civil rights investigation, saying in a statement it would work with federal prosecutors in the U.S. Department of Justice to "determine whether federal laws were violated."
Brown's death has led to six nights of protests in Elizabeth City and came one day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd in a trial that put a spotlight on police violence against Black people.
There were signs of lingering tension on a hot, sunny Tuesday afternoon in Elizabeth City, where about 20 demonstrators blocked off an intersection near the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office, forcing motorists to take a detour.
One driver, a middle-aged white man, was seen taking a gun off the dashboard of his pickup truck after approaching protesters and complaining about the blockage, according to Reosha Christian, a 35-year-old city resident taking part in the demonstration.
Christian, who said the man never pointed his weapon and pulled away after he was confronted by law enforcement officers, expressed hopes that protests would lead to greater transparency over the shooting, including naming the officers involved.
SHOOTING BRANDED 'EXECUTION'
"We are going to shut it down," Christian said. "We want them to tell us who the officers are who shot this man."
Elizabeth City officials on Tuesday amended their emergency declaration to include a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. The city has a population of roughly 18,000, half of which is Black.
The Brown family's lawyers have denounced his killing as an "execution," saying sheriff's deputies continued firing their weapons at him after Brown drove his vehicle away from them. The lawyers have also accused officials of withholding evidence after being shown only 20 seconds of footage from one police body camera on Monday.
Crump said on Monday there was footage from at least nine cameras, including multiple police body-cam and dash-cam videos, but that Pasquotank County Attorney Michael Cox had decided against showing more evidence to the family.
Cox did not respond to a request for comment.
Wooten has said his office is seeking court approval to release the video to the public, a necessary step under state law. A court hearing was scheduled for Wednesday on whether the body-cam footage can be disclosed to media organizations.
Khalil Ferebee, Brown's son, said the independent autopsy and video evidence confirmed that his father was trying to "get away" when the officers shot him. A family lawyer said on Monday there were seven to eight officers at the scene.
"Yesterday, I said he was executed. This autopsy report shows me that was correct."
(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey; Maria Caspani and Peter Szekely in New York; and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler)