UPDATED with Facebook screenshots: 10:45 a.m. ET, April 30
Facebook posts by the judge who blocked the public release of bodycam video footage from Andrew Brown Jr.‘s police killing last week suggest he harbors pro-police bias.
A review of activity on the social network by North Carolina Superior Court Judge Jeffery Foster shows that he once even had some kind words about George Zimmerman, the vigilante killer of an unarmed Black teenager in Florida.
The years-old posts may provide a glimpse into the mind of a man who was adamant about only having Brown’s family and their attorneys see the bodycam footage — a move that in the short term seems to provide protection and cover for the police department at the center of the shooting.
The Root’s Michael Harriot brought attention first to Foster’s questionable Facebook posts.
In addition to a decidedly pro-police Facebook post, Foster weighed in on the acquittal of Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who was charged with murder for killing Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman, who racially profiled Martin and followed him against the advice of the police before shooting the 17-year-old, claimed he was defending himself under the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground law. He was recorded during his call with the police talking about “fucking punks” and grumbling about how “these assholes, they always get away.” Six jurors ultimately reached a “not guilty” verdict in Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial in 2013, sparking protests across the country.
It was in that context that Foster took to Facebook to make sure all his friends knew that he agreed with Zimmerman’s acquittal.
“He should have never been charged,” Foster wrote about Zimmerman the day after he was acquitted. “The jury did the right thing. Fox News got it right again.”
In another telling sign of where his law enforcement loyalties lie, Foster — a graduate of East Carolina University (ECU) — declared on Facebook in 2016 that he thought kneeling during the playing of the national anthem was “repugnant.” Foster admitted that he supported the “right” to do so, but he apparently draws the line at anyone kneeling while wearing an ECU uniform, like the marching band.
Foster called that “disrespectful in the eyes of many under the color of the University” and “an abuse of their position of privilege” that is “uncalled for and offensive and should be answered to.”
He added later: “their right to protest their beliefs is not appropriate while they are in those uniforms on that field. Period. And they should lose the privilege of marching there again.”
It can’t be overlooked that the kneeling protest was pioneered by pro football free agent Colin Kaepernick, who began taking a knee on the sidelines while the “Star-Spangled Banner” played as a way to bring attention to police violence against Black people — the same kind of violence Brown’s family alleged he was the victim of and that police are trying to cover up. Kaepernick was later blacklisted from the NFL.
By siding with the police’s insistence of keeping the bodycam video private and decidedly moving away from transparency, Foster’s ruling was consistent with both his feelings about Zimmerman and the kneeling protest.
All of the above makes it no surprise that in September — smack dab in the middle of ongoing national protests against police violence that routinely leaves unarmed Black people dead — Foster posted to his Facebook page a photo of the so-called “thin blue line,” a pro-police image that is supposed to represent the thin line between life and death that police officers face on the job.
Foster did rule on Wednesday that Brown’s family would be able to view the video within 10 days of his decision. But he also delayed the public release of the video by up to 45 days, giving police even more of an opportunity to possibly edit or otherwise alter the footage.
In Pasquotank County, body camera footage cannot be released without a court order.
Brown’s family member and their attorneys have suggested there is a coverup at play by the police who are trying to conceal evidence of their misconduct and wrongdoing in the April 21 shooting.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said Monday that if the video showed Brown doing something wrong, police would have eagerly made the footage public.
Police can’t “sweep this under the rug,” Crump said Monday, emphasizing how taxpayers who voted for local police officers to wear body cams should be resentful that the footage won’t be released “when it’s most critically needed.”
In the meantime, the FBI has opened up a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
Results from an independent autopsy made public on Tuesday showed that Brown — who was driving away from police when he was shot — was killed from a penetrating gunshot wound to the head.
Police have not said whether Brown was armed. On Wednesday, prosecutors told Foster in court and claimed for the first time that Brown had been the aggressor and used his car to ram the vehicles of deputies who were trying to serve him with a search warrant.
Brown’s family and attorneys, who as of Wednesday had only seen an edited 20-second “snippet” of the bodycam video, said that claim was inconsistent with what they saw on the footage.
Family attorney Wayne Kendall said Brown was shot a total of five times.
“The first, initial shots were through the front windshield of the vehicle,” Kendall said, describing Brown as having “his arms up on the steering wheel” — an indication that he was neither armed nor posing a threat to the officers.
Brown was shot four times in his right arm, but “they were not fatal shots,” Kendall said, explaining he was still able to reverse and turn around his car before continuing to try and flee.
“At that time he was hit in the back of the head,” Kendall said. “That is the fatal bullet wound. A penetrating bullet wound to the skull.”
Kendall called it “a straight up execution” while noting that shooting into a moving vehicle that doesn’t pose a mortal threat is a violation of police policy.
After the police killed Brown, Fox News attempted to assassinate his character in death by reporting that the search warrant in question said an informant allegedly bought illegal drugs from Brown for more than a year. Brown has “a criminal rap sheet over 180 pages long and dating back to May 1988,” Fox News wrote.
But, of course, whether true or not, that information is irrelevant and certainly did not pose or create a threat to the lives of the officers who shot at a man who was reportedly only holding a steering wheel at the time he was killed.
Not to mention, there were no reports of drugs — or guns — being found in Brown’s car, making Fox News’ report the very definition of irrelevant. In fact, if there was anything illegal being done by Brown or on his person or in his car, the Fox News article would have prominently mentioned it. So would the cops. But in a telling sign more than a week after the shooting, that has not happened.
What has happened is that seven Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies have been put on leave, two resigned, one retired after the shooting, all of their faces have been obscured on the redacted bodycam video footage and none of their names have been made public.
This is America.