Insights from The Current’s newsroom

The death of Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker killed in her home by Louisville, Ky., police during a botched raid from a no-knock warrant, inspired racial justice protests and, as of last week, federal charges against four officers involved in the raid.

In Camden County, civil rights activists and lawyers are raising fresh criticism about what they believe is a similar case in which Latoya James, a Black woman, was killed last year when sheriff deputies entered her cousin’s Woodbine home with a search warrant.

Lawyers for James’ family and the Camden chapter of the NAACP believes that both James and her relative, Varshan Brown, aren’t receiving due justice as a result of the law enforcement action. The NAACP chapter is seeking changes to the Camden County Sheriff’s Office policies that allowed her death to happen.

Lawyers for the family of Latoya James say they are outraged that the local district attorney has not only exonerated the deputies involved but also is instead prosecuting Varshan Brown for his cousin’s death.

James was killed in May 2021 when Camden County Sheriff’s deputies executed a drug-related search warrant at 4:51 a.m.

She was staying at the Woodbine home of Brown, whom the warrant was intended for. Deputies knocked and announced themselves, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, before entering the home and “an exchange of gunfire” erupted between Brown and deputies. In the chaos, James was killed by gunfire and Brown was injured.

It’s not clear from the GBI or the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s news releases on the killing whether the bullet that killed James was from her cousin Brown or from deputies.

District Attorney Keith Higgins – who was elected over indicted DA Jackie Johnson — announced in April he would not charge the officers involved in the raid. Instead, he is prosecuting her cousin for her murder.

“Following entry of the residence, a use of force incident occurred involving CCSO Deputy Downy Casey, CCSO Deputy Michael Blaquiere, and Varshan Brown,” the DA’s office wrote in a news release. “During the incident, Brown and another occupant of the residence, Latoya James, received gunshot wounds, and James was pronounced dead at the scene.”

A Camden County grand jury indicted Brown for James’ death because, according to a statement by the district attorney, “while in the commission of an Aggravated Assault upon a Public Safety Officer, Brown caused the death of Latoya James.”

Brown has pleaded not guilty to one count of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault on a public safety officer, one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, according to court records.

He’s awaiting trial while being held in the Brantley County jail.

DA Higgins’ office said it would not be making the investigative file of the shooting public while prosecutors pursue the charges against Brown.

The James’ family attorney and the Camden NAACP believe that the district attorney has not adequately investigated the use of force by the sheriff’s department.

“This is the case of an unarmed Black woman being shot during a botched or a bogus search warrant,” Malik Shabazz, an attorney for James’ family, told reporters last year.

The Camden County NAACP raised concerns last week after reviewing the body camera footage released by the GBI that recorded moments of last year’s raid. The civil rights activists say they believe the deputies acted in a similar fashion in Woodbine to the officers in Kentucky who executed the controversial no-knock warrant involved in Breonna Taylor’s death.

According to the group’s analysis of the footage, the police waited a mere three seconds before announcing themselves and the aggressive entry. That didn’t give Brown a reasonable amount of time to answer the door and resolve the matter peacefully.

An analysis by the Camden County NAACP of how quickly deputies went from knocking on the Woodbine home where Latoya James to bursting in with a battering ram.

Only one deputy in the Woodbine raid had their body cameras turned on, according to the NAACP. That officer was carrying a riot shield that obstructed most of the camera’s view.

In Kentucky, state authorities prosecuted one officer in Breonna Taylor’s death (he was acquitted).

Last week, the Justice Department charged four current and former Louisville officers with violating civil rights law. The agency alleged the officers falsified the warrant leading to the raid and alleged one officer fired blindly into Taylor’s apartment.

The Tide brings news and observations from The Current’s staff.