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Man charged with murder after deputies shot his cousin during a drug raid is acquitted

A Georgia man has been acquitted of murder after sheriff’s deputies killed his cousin during a controversial drug raid at his home — but will spend the rest of his life behind bars for drug possession and shooting at law enforcement during the incident.

A jury in Cadem County found Varshan Brown, 49, not guilty on charges of murder in connection with the death of his 37-year-old cousin Latoya James. The verdict on Thursday comes more than two years after James was killed during a shootout between Brown and sheriff deputies at his home in Woodbine.

James was spending the night at Brown’s home when deputies with a warrant to search for drugs knocked down the door of the darkened house at about 5am on 4 May 2021. Brown, who claims he opened fire because he thought someone was trying to break inside his house, was also injured during the raid.

Camden County’s district attorney decided not to bring charges against the deputies who executed the raid, but charged Brown with murder — under Georgia law, someone can be convicted of felony murder if they commit a felony that results in a death, regardless of intent. Brown was also charged with aggravated assault against peace officers, possessing cocaine with intent to distribute and illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Despite being acquitted of James’s murder, the jury found Brown guilty on all other charges and he was sentenced to life in prison by a judge. An attorney for James’ family said that the acquittal on murder charges validated their previous pleas to investigate the officers, who they say did not announce themselves properly before entering Brown’s residence.

“If somebody comes to my house at four or five in the morning and I don’t know who it is, I’m going to shoot too,” attorney Harry Daniels told The Associated Press on Friday. “If he knew it was police, he wouldn’t have fired a gun at law enforcement.”

Last year, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) released body camera video that showed deputies announcing themselves, then immediately forcing their way inside. Multiple gunshots were fired within seconds, but the deputy wearing the body camera was carrying a shield that obstructed much of the video.

Neither Brown nor James can be seen in the footage.

Latoya James was killed by gunfire in May 2021 when sheriff’s deputies executed a drug raid at her cousin Varshan Brown’s home

Deputy Downy Casey testified during the trial and said that Brown ignored commands to get on the ground, raised a handgun and began shooting. Mr Casey and and another deputy then returned fire, wounding James and Brown.

Meanwhile, Brown’s defence attorney Tobe Karrh said that her client was startled when deputies rammed his door right after they announced themselves and that he was blinded by the lights on officers’ weapons.

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Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins said that he accepts the jury’s verdict, but defended his decision to bring murder charges against Brown.

“Brown did not shoot her,” Mr Higgins told the AP. “But for Varshan Brown knowingly shooting at the police, the police never would have fired and Latoya James would still be alive. So it was his act of choosing to fire a handgun at police officers that caused her death.”

Mr Higgins said that the harsh sentence for Brown was in part because of his prior conviction for cocaine possession with intent to distribute.

Brown will have to serve 55 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.

Last year, James’ family filed a lawsuit against the Camden County Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit argues James was killed by bullets striking her in the shoulder and back as deputies and Brown fired guns at each other. The family is seeking $25m in damages.


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