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Death of Florida man run over by police car capturing national attention

By James Harper -Florida Courier- | Last updated: Oct 1, 2013 - 12:19:55 PM

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Marlon Brown and Krystal Brown. Photos: Krystal Brown
The ex-wife of a DeLand, Fla., man who was run over and killed by a DeLand police car in May wants the Volusia County, Fla. medical examiner removed or suspended for her conclusion that “there was no evidence that he was struck by the vehicle.’’

In a Sept. 26 interview with the Florida Courier, Ben Crump and his client, Krystal Brown, accused Dr. Marie Herrmann, the medical examiner, of “professional negligence, at worst intentional deceit.”

Marlon Brown was run over and killed by Police Officer James Harris during a pursuit on May 8. DeLand is about 15 miles from Sanford, the city that gained global attention in the Trayvon Martin case. Mr. Crump is the attorney for teen Martin’s parents.

With advice from Atty. Crump, Krystal Brown filed a complaint against Mr. Herrmann with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiner’s Commission.

The Florida Courier also has learned that the Florida State Conference of the NAACP reached out to Tom Battles with the Department of Justice about the DeLand case.

“He is aware of the situation and his office is prepared to investigate the death of Marlon,” Cynthia Slater told the Florida Courier. As first vice president of the Florida NAACP, Ms. Slater said she is responsible for providing oversight to the DeLand NAACP, “so I have been working with the West Volusia Branch on this issue since the beginning.”

In a letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiner’s Commission obtained by the Courier, Krystal Brown wrote: “I am requesting that the Medical Examiner’s Commission perform an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Marlon Brown’s death and whether Dr. Herrmann violated any professional or ethical regulations or worse engaged in criminal conduct to conceal the truth about what caused Marlon Brown’s death.”

Mrs. Brown is appalled that a high-speed car chase over a possible seat belt violation led to the death of Marlon Brown, the father of her 3 children.

According to a police report, Volusia County Sheriff’s Deputy John Szabo noticed that Mr. Brown was driving on May 8 without using a seat belt.

Deputy Szabo turned on his emergency lights, Mr. Brown took off and a chase began. The time was around 12:36 a.m.

DeLand Police Officers Harris and Justin Ferrari joined the pursuit of Mr. Brown. Off. Ferrari abandoned the chase.

Off. Harris drove to the left of Off. Ferrari’s patrol car and continued the pursuit until Mr. Brown abandoned his vehicle and took off running through a vegetable garden.

According to law enforcement reports, Mr. Brown fell and was run over.

Mrs. Brown and Attorney Crump believe Marlon Brown’s death was caused by Off. Harris’ car running him over.

The dash cam of the patrol car caught the incident on video, which Mrs. Brown and Atty. Crump believe clearly proves their conclusions. The video cam of the incident was released in September.

A grand jury chose not to file vehicular homicide charges against Off. Harris.

Atty. Crump said he didn’t know if the grand jury had viewed the video. He said he does know the medical examiner’s report was read to the grand jury.

Her ex-husband’s death will not go in vain said Mrs. Brown, who already has settled at $550,000 civil lawsuit with the city of DeLand. Off. Harris was fired May 31.

In the termination letter to Off. Harris, DeLand police Chief Bill Ridgway Harris wrote: “I have determined that you have failed to meet probationary standards. Effective immediately, your employment with the City of DeLand has been terminated. This decision was made in the best interests of the department, the city and the community.”

Mrs. Brown was married to Marlon for 10 years before they divorced in 2006.

Though the marriage ended, Mrs. Brown told the Florida Courier they remained friends. “I still loved him. We talked a couple a times a week,” she said.

Mrs. Brown said she had spoken to him the day before the accident.

She said she was home the night of the accident and was contacted shortly after it occurred.

“I went down there right after it happened,” she noted.

Ms. Brown, who is a licensed nurse, has two degrees, but considers her full-time job raising the couple’s three children—Marlon Brown Jr., 12; Armani Brown, 13; and DeAndre Williamson, 23.

No matter what happens, Ms. Brown says she vows to speak up to fight against laws pertaining to high-speed chases to prevent what happened to her ex-husband from happening to anyone else.

She noted she has started her crusade working with the DeLand Police Department on their pursuit policy.

“I would like to be the spokesman to end illegal high-speed chase pursuits,” she said.

If Marlon Brown was not wearing a seat belt, the police did have the right to pull him over.

On June 30, 2009, a law in Florida went into effect that allows officers to cite an individual for driving without a seat belt on, even if no other violations are cited.

Prior to this law, officers could issue a civil citation for failure to wear a seat belt but could not use this violation as reason to stop a motorist.

Off. Harris not being charged came as no surprise to Atty. Crump.

“If the matter was reversed, (and) Marlon was the driver of the car, he would have been charged (for running someone over),” Atty. Crump noted.

Even though Marlon Brown’s family has settled a civil suit with the city, Atty. Crump said they have the right to continue pursuing criminal charges.

“Neither one should affect the other,” Atty. Crump said, referring to the criminal and civil cases.

Judging from the video and other evidence, Atty. Crump said he is convinced Off. Harris drove in a reckless manner, which led to Mr. Brown’s death.

“We don’t know what the grand jury saw. All we know is they presented the medical examiner’s report. We believe it was inaccurate—evidence shows this,” he said.

“The whole nation is looking at the video. How can they say the car didn’t hit him,” Atty. Crump asked, noting that several million people have watched the video since the family had it released.

On September 19, the family celebrated Mr. Brown’s birthday as well as continuing to fight for justice for him, Ms. Brown said.

“When I first heard the news it was on Facebook.  But I was hoping that maybe I was reading it wrong.  But then I got to the scene and started asking questions and found out it was actually true. So, here we are,” she said.

The family’s limited discussion about the civil matter is an effort to avoid people marginalizing the case by saying it’s about money, Atty. Crump explained.

“And what this is really about is an African American driving a car and they wanted a reason to pull him over,” Atty. Crump said. “This is about driving while Black and the fact that their medical examiner report, and the state attorney, all seem to be trying to protect this officer from being held accountable from vehicular homicide.”

“They want us to believe that mysteriously this vehicle just rolled over on the top of him, landed on him and caused him not to be able to breathe, as if that was it but there’s more to the story,” Ms. Brown said.

According to Ms. Brown, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy wanted to list cause of death as traumatic homicide, but wasn’t allowed to by his superiors.

“He was forced into putting pending instead of what he wanted to put. It was put out of his hands and the chief medical examiner took over and she ruled that it was an accident. But if you look at the video, you see that’s not so,” she added.

“It’s hard.  It’s been very, very hard. They (the children) miss their father like crazy. My daughter has had to graduate from middle school and transfer into high school without him ... She had her 14th birthday without him. My oldest has had his 23rd birthday. A lot of things have transpired since all of this has happened, things that he would have been present for that, of course, he’s not able to be here due to the circumstances,” Ms. Brown said.

“We’re making it but it’s still hard,” she added.

A complaint has been filed with the Medical Examiner’s Commission for an investigation of the autopsy, said Atty. Crump. “I don’t think they’re going to do right on their own,” he added. The lawyer encouraged everyone to see the video, “Execution in a vegetable garden,” on YouTube for themselves.

(Charlene Muhammad contributed to this report.)