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Mother says shooting was murder

This is the trailer where John Brown was shot and killed by a Walworth County Sheriff's Deputy.

Brown (click for larger version)
August 07, 2012 | 05:41 PM
Nancy Brown is not accepting a recent Walworth County District Attorney's office decision that justifies the May 5 shooting of her son, John, by a sheriff's deputy.

The decision, contained in a letter from District Attorney Phil Koss to James C. Holmes, special agent for the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation, characterizes the shooting as "privileged and in the use of either self-defense or the defense of others."

In the letter, dated July 2, Koss said he came to that conclusion after reading investigation reports from the Walworth County Sheriff's Office and the DCI .

"It was murder," Brown said in a face-to-face interview at the Regional News office on Friday.

John W. Brown, 22, was shot and killed May 5 in his bedroom at the Browns' home, 1463 Meadow Lane, in the Country Estates subdivision, town of Lyons. Police reports say Brown lunged at Deputy Wayne Blanchard with a knife. Blanchard fired the fatal shots.

Brown said she called the sheriff's department to help her get her son through his dark mood.

"He was pretty well bombed," she said. Toxicology showed John had 0.185 percent alcohol in his blood at the time of his death. Wisconsin's legal blood alcohol limit for drivers is 0.08.

Brown said she had called the sheriff's department for help with her son three times before.

"They consoled him. They calmed him down," Brown said.

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She said the two deputies who responded during the early-morning hours of May 5 had never been to her home before.

Brown said she was tired of reading the "lies" in the official reports that have been reported in the newspapers about the shooting. Beyond that, however, on advice of legal counsel, Brown wouldn't say much more about the events that happened that morning, between the time she called for help and when two bullets from a deputy's side arm ended her son's life.

Attorney Rebecca Williams of Romanucci & Blandin LLC, a Chicago law firm that specializes in personal injury and wrongful death, said the firm is doing its own investigation into the shooting.

A court challenge to the claim that the shooting was justified is in the works, Williams said.

Filings will probably be made in county or federal court before the end of the year, she said.

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Brown said she did not see the shooting. She was in the living room when the shots were fired.

What she shared was the sorrow of a mother who lost her only child.

"I don't sleep. I wake up every night the same time the gunshots went off. I don't get to sleep until 4 a.m.," Brown said. "I care less about what my home looks like."

Devastated at the loss of her son, Brown said it's her anger about what happened that evening that keeps her going.

Brown works as a hairdresser, although she says business is slow.

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Still only three months after the shooting, she will have to carry on without her son, who didn't want her to be alone. She will have to endure his birthday without him.

This football season will also be hard.

She said she and John would watch the Packer games together. "He didn't want me to be alone," she said.

Brown said his friends would come over and she would make appetizers "and have a great time."

John's favorite Packer was Donald Driver. Brown said she placed Driver's jersey on John's casket.

(subhead) Life without a father

The portrait she draws of her son is of a young man who grew up without a father. A boy who sometimes got in trouble at school and didn't graduate.

Brown said her son had a drinking problem. It was difficult for him to break away from alcohol because all his friends drink, Brown said.

Brown said her son was a miracle baby. She wasn't supposed to be able to have children. Unfortunately, his father was never really a part of his life.

He attended Burlington High School and did not graduate.

But he was also a young man who was trying to right himself.

Brown said she and her son attended church at Chapel on the Hill, near Lake Geneva.

John earned his GED at Gateway Technical College, and also learned auto repair there. He was to receive his diploma at a graduation ceremony two weeks after the shooting.

Brown still carries her son'[s Gateway ID card in her purse.

(subhead) That night

But on the last evening of his life, John was going through a dark period, Brown said.

Brown said she was awakened by a call from one of John's friends.

"She said 'John is cutting himself and he needs help,'" Brown said.

Brown went to her son's room and found him sitting at his computer.

He was drunk, and was cutting himself with the blade of his folding knife. Brown said her son had a history of cutting himself.

Brown said she called 911 seeking help for her son.

"I tried prying the knife out of his hand," Brown said. "He didn't try to hurt me."

He didn't give up the knife, either.

Brown said she wasn't afraid of her son on the night of May 4 and didn't feel threatened by him.

The knife would be at the core of the tragedy that would play out later.

(subhead) The knife

The knife Brown was holding when he allegedly lunged at the officers was described as a SWAT knife in the DA's letter.

Brown said the knife was a simple Snap-on Tools folding knife. She showed what she said was a smaller version. The knife is basically a blade that folds out of a black plastic handle. She said John's knife had a three-inch blade.

SWAT knife appears to be a brand name used by Smith & Wesson. A check of the company's website shows that the SWAT knives are also folding knives that look similar to those sold by Snap-on as "lock liner" knives.

In October, John was the passenger in a car that left the road in Burlington. He severely injured his right shoulder in the accident, Brown said.

Despite the discomfort, he worked at his job at Lake Geneva Chevrolet for nearly three months, but by January, the pain forced him to seek medical attention, she said.

The injury was far worse than he had thought. The damaged shoulder required surgery. During surgery, the bicep of the right arm had to be disconnected while the bone was repaired, and then reconnected, Brown said.

Post operative pain was an issue, Brown said. But she said her son did not use prescription pain killers.

That's because he had been addicted to them, but broke his addiction three years ago, Brown said. She said he was afraid that using them again would send him down the same path.

His shoulder injury did a lot to darken his mood, Brown said. He couldn't work, he was stuck in the house "24-7" and he couldn't drive," she added.

He'd need weeks of physical therapy to regain strength in his right arm.

He wasn't going to be able to get back to his job until mid-June, Brown said.

Adding to that, Brown said John learned that his ex-girlfriend had an abortion, and, according to a member of the girlfriend's family, that child was believed to have been John's.

"John loved kids." Brown said in her written statement about her son. "In fact, he was going to be a godfather three times this year.

"He himself would have been a great father," she wrote.

(subhead) Trying to find a friend

John had been texting, e-mailing and calling friends on his computer and cell phone, trying to find someone to talk to, Brown said. At that hour, most of the friends were in bed, their computers and cell phones either turned off or not answered.

John was able to reach a former girlfriend, Brown said. Sometime during the conversation, it became apparent to John's friend that he was suffering through some bad times.

Brown said the girl, who got Brown's phone number from John, then called her and warned her that John was hurting himself.

Brown said she hated that her son's Facebook postings and texts that he wrote just before the shooting were released to the media.

"People say stupid things while they're under the influence of alcohol," Brown said. "Deep down inside, he still loved her," she said of his recent ex-girlfriend. "They went together for four years."

She's upset by implications that the shooting was somehow suicide by cop.Despite his dark mood and cutting, Brown said she doesn't believe that her son was trying to kill himself.

He sat at his desk for two hours," Brown said of those dark hours between May 4 and 5. "If he had wanted to commit suicide, he would have done it."

She said that in April, John wrote down five goals for the coming year.

They were:

1. Get certified at work. Train to achieve service tech.

2. Save money for new car.

3. Get involved with NA and AA (Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous).

4. Get my shoulder healed fast.

5. Quit smoking.

"That's not a kid that wanted to die," Brown said.


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