A full month before City Hall released video of the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald, federal jurors convicted veteran police officer Aldo Brown of using excessive force when he pummeled and kicked a South Side store clerk in front of a camera.
Then the McDonald video rocked Chicago and further strained relations between the community and police. So when Brown returned to U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall’s courtroom Wednesday to learn his fate, notorious police shooting cases like McDonald’s loomed over the proceeding. And Brown’s lawyers said there was little need to send a message to fellow officers.
“Their worst nightmare, rather than getting shot on the job, is standing in Aldo Brown’s shoes right now,” Jennifer Russell, one of Brown’s defense attorneys, told the judge as she argued for a lenient sentence.
But Kendall declared “we can’t have a police community where it’s us versus them.” Then she sentenced Brown, 39, to two years in prison for hitting and kicking the store clerk, who had a loaded gun, admitted on the stand he carried a weapon illegally and regularly smoked marijuana.
“The Constitution applies to felons,” Kendall said. “It applies to drug addicts. It applies to individuals who have a criminal history.”
Brown and his attorney, Daniel Q. Herbert, later told reporters justice wasn’t served. Herbert said the criminals won, and “the most vulnerable members of our community” lost.
“The message that we have now sent out is that there is no reason, there is no incentive, for a police officer ever to do proactive work again going forward,” Herbert said.
Herbert also represents Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with murder for fatally shooting McDonald 16 times. He argued in court filings that Brown “is not an individual that should spend one day in prison.” And he said officers like Brown are all that prevent violent criminals from completely overtaking the area known as “Terror Town.”
“Aldo Brown doesn’t go to an office each day, typing emails, participating in meetings or conference calls and thinking about the next run to Starbucks,” Herbert wrote. “Aldo Brown starts each shift going into Terror Town, where he is public enemy number one to the resident criminals, the ONLY thing preventing already pervasive violence from completely overtaking the community.”
Aldo Brown’s sister, Annette Brown, made an emotional plea for mercy during her brother’s sentencing hearing. She listed the names that have dominated headlines about fatal police shootings, including McDonald, Rekia Boyd and Quintonio LeGrier. She said her brother’s case was different, and she called him a “fall guy.”
“No one was shot,” Annette Brown said. “No blood was shed. No one went to the hospital.”
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement that Brown has been suspended from his job at CPD, and the department plans to “seek separation upon the conclusion of the court’s proceedings.” He called Brown’s actions “intolerable, and they undermine the hard work that police officers do each and every day.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Romero also insisted — and Kendall agreed — that Brown lied on the stand during his trial. But Brown denied it before he was sentenced.
“I made a split-second decision,” Brown said. “I did not lie. I didn’t lie. OK?”
A jury convicted Brown in October after Brown testified that he only began throwing punches at Jecque Howard at the Omar Salma shop on East 76th Street after he realized Howard had a handgun in his back pocket.
Kendall said Wednesday she didn’t buy it.
The jury saw Brown punching Howard repeatedly in video taken from multiple angles. Howard ultimately wound up handcuffed and facedown on the ground as Brown recovered a loaded gun. Moments later, Brown could be seen kicking the handcuffed suspect.
The 12-year police veteran testified that Howard refused to do as he was told. At one point, Brown said Howard’s hand brushed against his gun, so Brown said he threw an “upper-cut punch.” And after ultimately recovering drugs and the gun from Howard, Brown said he kicked Howard because Howard seemed to be trying to incite a riot by yelling to others in the store “f him up, f him up, get him.”
Brown described the kick as a “leg swipe.” He said he struck Howard with the inner part of his foot.
Howard testified that he never threatened Brown, nor did he try to flee or attack the officer. But he admitted he evaded taxes, illegally bought and carried a gun in 2012, smoked marijuana regularly and did so 24 hours before he testified.