Sister of Gay Police Shooting Victim Isaiah Brown Speaks Out
Isaiah Brown and sister Yolanda: Brown’s sister, Yolanda, shows us that victims of police violence aren’t statistics, they are fathers, brothers, friends, neighbors, lovers.
And early the next morning, on April 22, Isaiah Brown, a 32-year-old gay Black man, was walking down the street away from his house in Spotsylvania County, Va., and was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, when he was shot 10 times – that’s right 10 times, for holding a phone to his ear. Brown remains in critical and guarded condition fighting for his life. The family blames miscommunication between the dispatcher and the police officer.
The irony, if you can call it that, is that the police officer who shot him also gave him a ride home earlier, after Brown’s car broke down. How could this happen?
As of this week, Brown and Brown had nothing in common except their last name and skin color. They also now join the scores of other persons of color who have been killed or critically wounded by rogue police officers.
It just keeps occurring, despite the outcry for police reform, despite the protests, despite the tear-jerking press conferences that feature the grieving mother, brother, sister, wife or child. It’s like a warped, haunting broken record. We can’t get away from it. It’s sticking to us, and whatever we do, we can’t seem to get rid of it. Unless you are that wife, brother, child or sister, you can’t imagine the pain. One day they are part of the family, and the next day they are tragically part of an unbroken string of breaking news.
I reached out to Isaiah’s sister, Yolanda, for what can only be described as a very difficult conversation. I was torn about speaking with her at such a delicate time, particularly since Isaiah is still fighting for his life, but I assured Yolanda that the LGBTQ+ community was thinking and praying for her brother and wanted to learn more about him.
The most immediate question was how is Isaiah? “His condition hasn’t changed,” Yolanda said while exhaling a long breath. “He’s still in the ICU. It’s still touch and go. His vitals are up one minute and down the next, and he hasn’t regained consciousness. We’re just waiting for him to come to.”
I explained to Yolanda that none of us could possibly know what she and her family are going through, and asked how everyone was holding up. “I guess all I can say is that we’re doing the best we can. As you said, this is very hard because it’s not knowing what will happen that is so tough. Not knowing which way it can go. We’re all just trying to hang in there, and support Isaiah as best we can.”
Yolanda explained because of COVID-19 protocols at the hospital she has been the only family member allowed to see Isaiah. “It’s been eight days, and I’ve been there every day. I tell him stories, pray with him, laugh with him, and play music for him. And I tell him I love him constantly. I’m just waiting for him to tell me that he loves me back, and that will lift a big burden off my chest. We just have to believe that he will be alright.”
The brother and sister have a very special relationship, with Yolanda and Isaiah sharing the same mother and father and being closest in age among the rest of their siblings. Also, Yolanda said she was responsible for pointing her brother towards the field of health care. “The very fact that he works with elderly people, and loves it, tells you so much about him,” she pointed out.
I told Yolanda that I went through her brother’s Facebook page, and that it made me awfully hungry. “Oh yes, he loves his sweets,” she said with laugh. “He is just the life of the party. He loves his family, loves to laugh, and just loves, loves his music. He currently loves Big Freedia, and as a matter of fact, he just got me into her music.”
Yolanda added that her brother’s smile, “Just lights up a room.”
I found myself a bit choked up thinking about how much Yolanda loves her brother and told her and told her I had a special relationship with my sister as well. “It sounds like you both are just full of love,” I said. “Yes. I think that’s the message he’d want me to tell you is that we have no hatred. We will continue to love everyone the same.”
I asked Yolanda if anyone from the police department has reached out to her, or the family, to check in on Isaiah. “No,” she said after a long pause.
Living through this nightmare, I wanted to know if she had a message of any kind. “So many things are running through my mind. First, I just want my brother to be healthy. Hopefully, we can get answers as to what happened, and at least try and move forward.”
“Finally, my heart goes out to all the families that have had to deal with this situation. We need to figure out why this keeps happening and where all the failures are coming from. How to fix this is the million-dollar question. I have other brothers, and I don’t want them to continue walking around in fear.”
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(CNN) An unarmed man was shot by a Virginia sheriff’s deputy about an hour after the same deputy gave the man a ride home, Virginia State Police confirmed to CNN.
An attorney for Isaiah Brown, 32, said his client was shot while on the phone with 911 after the deputy — who had returned to respond to a “domestic incident,” per state police — mistook a phone for a gun.
Brown was taken to a local hospital after the shooting early Wednesday with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, according to statements from the Virginia State Police, which said its Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office Police Shooting Investigation Team was investigating at the request of the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office.
The shooting took place after a Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s deputy responded to a call about a “disabled motorist” and gave Brown a ride home from a gas station, state police said.
Asked if the deputy who shot Brown was the same who had given him a ride home earlier, VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller confirmed to CNN it was the same deputy.
The body camera video and 911 audio were released late Friday, after the sheriff’s office said Brown’s family had reviewed both at the invitation of the sheriff’s office and a special prosecutor in the case, the Fredericksburg Commonwealth’s Attorney.
“After viewing the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s deputy’s bodycam video and listening to the 911 call, it is evident that the tragic shooting of Isaiah Brown was completely avoidable,” David Haynes, an attorney for Brown’s family, said in a statement. He said Brown was “on the phone with 911 at the time of the shooting and the officer mistook a cordless house phone for a gun.”
In the body camera footage, the deputy is heard saying Brown has a gun.
“Drop the gun now and stop walking towards me,” the deputy is heard yelling in the body camera footage. “Stop walking towards me. Stop. Stop.”
A spokesperson for the Virginia State Police told CNN Brown was unarmed at the time of the shooting.
“The deputy in question made multiple, basic policing errors and violated established protocols,” Haynes said. “The deputy was situated nearly 50 feet from Isaiah, was never threatened and should not have discharged his weapon.”
The shooting of Brown, who is Black, comes at a time when law enforcement agencies are under increased scrutiny following high-profile fatal shootings of Black people, including 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, and Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
The deputy, who has not been named, has been placed on administrative leave according to the sheriff’s office policy, Sheriff Roger Harris said in a video statement released alongside the body camera footage and 911 audio.
Shooting occurred after ‘domestic incident’
The shooting occurred just before 3:20 a.m. local time Wednesday, about 50 minutes after a Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s deputy had given Brown a ride home, according to statements from the Virginia State Police.
VSP said the deputy who shot Brown was responding to a “domestic incident” when the shooting occurred.
In the 911 audio, Brown is heard arguing with his brother, who Brown says won’t let him go into their mother’s room. Brown indicates he can’t get to his car, but the dispatcher says the car had broken down.
At one point, Brown asks his brother for a gun, but his brother refuses. Brown tells the dispatcher he’s about to kill his brother.
The dispatcher asks Brown whether he has a gun, to which he says both yes and no, according to the transcript of the call that accompanied the sheriff’s office video. Moments later Brown tells the dispatcher he is outside, walking down the road, when sirens are heard in the background.
“You need to hold your hands up,” the dispatcher tells Brown. “Hold your hands up … Isaiah, are you holding your hands up?”
The deputy’s body camera was not pointed at Brown but shows a deputy arriving to find Brown in the roadway. The deputy gets out of the vehicle and repeatedly orders Brown to show his hands and to “drop the gun.”
“He’s got a gun to his head,” the deputy says.
He tells Brown to “drop the gun” and to stop walking towards him.
That’s when a series of gunshots ring out. The deputy continues telling Brown to drop the gun and show his hands before providing Brown with medical aid. In the footage released by the sheriff’s office, Brown is blurred out.
Communication failure led to shooting, attorney says
A spokesperson for the family attorney told CNN Saturday morning they have learned through medical records that Brown was shot 10 times. VSP told CNN Friday night it was unclear how many times Brown was shot, saying state police were still waiting on official medical reports from the hospital.
Officials are asking anyone with additional information about the incident to contact the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Once the investigation is complete, the case will be turned over to the special prosecutor, Fredericksburg Commonwealth’s Attorney LaBravia Jenkins, VSP’s statement said.
Haynes said Brown “clearly told dispatch that he did not have a weapon” before the deputy arrived.
Brown’s family is also asking for the release of the dispatch audio with the deputy prior to the shooting, Haynes said, adding there was “obviously a failure of communication between dispatch and the officer which led to this tragic event.”
“Isaiah is now fighting for his life as a result of these completely avoidable errors by the deputy and dispatch,” Haynes said.
CNN’s Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.