Georgia family seeks video footage, answers and transparency in deputy-involved shooting

WOODBINE, Ga. — A local Georgia family is in search of answers in a deputy-involved shooting in Camden County.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Latoya Denise James and Varshawn Lamont Brown were shot during an “exchange of gunfire” on Tuesday morning.

James died on the scene, Brown is recovering.

Action News Jax Courtney Cole spoke with family in Woodbine. The family says Brown had a security camera in his home on U.S. Highway 17. They believe the video footage from the home could be crucial in this case. Now they’re just trying to figure out how they can get a hold of that footage, to view it.

RELATED: GBI: 1 dead, 1 injured after officer-involved shooting in Camden County

“Before we make any hasty decisions and pointing any fingers at the GBI or the sheriff’s office, we want to make sure the facts are the facts,” Pastor Mack Devon Knight said.

Knight, a member of the family as well as their pastor, said the family still has questions about what the Georgia Bureau of Investigation referred to as an “exchange of gunfire” at the home on US-17.

“I do believe that my cousin Shawn would have certainly armed himself and protected himself. I certainly do not believe that Latoya would have even had a gun near her, or in her hand,” Knight told Cole.

The GBI said the Camden County Sheriff’s Office knocked and announced themselves before entering the home.

Cole reached out to the GBI Wednesday to learn: who initiated the gunfire, if Brown or James were armed and when body camera footage would be available.

In an email statement from GBI, the Director of the Office of Public Affairs told Cole: “The investigation remains active and ongoing. At this time, we don’t have any new investigative details for release. As that changes, we’ll let you know.”

Cole also put in a request with the Camden County Clerk of Court, for the drug-related search warrant. We are waiting for a response to the request.

The Camden County Sheriff’s Office told Action News Jax the deputies involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave, pending the GBI’s investigation.

The GBI will conduct an independent investigation. Once it’s done, the GBI will turn it over to the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for review.

The family has expressed frustration over not hearing from the GBI or seeing James’ body yet.

We thought it was important to go to Dale Carson, our Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert, so he can walk us through an investigation like this—step-by-step.

Carson has many years of experience as a special agent in the FBI.

The first thing Carson explained was the timing of the execution of the search warrant, which was 4:51 a.m.

“What you do is, your team plans to go to that residence at a time early in the morning, when it’s expected that the residents who are in there, are going to be asleep,” Caron said.

GBI said after deputies knocked on the door and announced themselves, the sheriff’s office entered the home. Then there was what the bureau referred to as an “exchange of gunfire” between deputies and Brown and James.

“And the expectation is that you knock on the door, you’ll come to the door and open the door. The police will hand you the copy of the search warrant, not the affidavit, but the search warrant—which lists the location, that lists what items are to be seized, those sorts of things. And they tend to that. They give that to the individual in the house. That’s the way it’s supposed to work,” Carson said.

Carson said if the GBI is called to get involved, like they are in this case, they will need to take time to re-create what happened.

“They’ll do that individually. And then they’ll go back and actually look at the scene, determine where a certain people were during the execution of the search warrant. And they’ll determine what then happened. Why did somebody fire a gun? Why did that happen? Was there somebody shooting at law enforcement? Yes or no. And did they act reasonably under the circumstances? Was there a proper lighting of the house at the time? All of those things are consideration for the GBI investigators, because what they’re trying to determine is it did one of the investigators make a mistake or not,” Carson explained.

Captain Larry Bruce, the spokesman for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, told Cole Sheriff Proctor, and the former Chiefs of the Kingsland and St. Mary’s Police Departments, received a grant to furnish body worn cameras to all law enforcement in Camden County.

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After receiving the grants, Bruce said the camera purchases began in about 2016 to equip the deputies and officers with body worn cameras.

When it comes to who wears the body cameras, Bruce explained most body cameras are worn by The Patrol Division. But Special Operations also have them. Bruce told Cole most investigators do not wear a body camera because their day-to-day responsibilities don’t call for it.

He also told Action News Jax the sheriff’s office has only been involved in three officer-involved shootings since August 2012.