‘I Didn’t Want Him to Die’
Wearing a navy blue Los Angeles Police Department baseball cap, 7-year-old Dylan Brown walked onto a stage in the Parker Center auditorium Thursday and with trembling lips and shaking voice told a hushed crowd that he really loved his dad, that he will really miss his dad and that he knows his dad really loved him.
Just how much was clear minutes later, as Dylan--alone with a reporter and his grandparents in an LAPD official’s upstairs office--twirled around and around in a swivel chair, ate candy after candy and talked about his dad, Brian Brown, the 27-year-old Los Angeles police officer shot to death by a gang member while on patrol Sunday night.
Dylan talked about how he and his dad played video games together. He talked about their fishing trips. And, like most kids, he talked about the stuff his dad bought him. (“Nintendo, it’s great,” Dylan said.) He even talked about his dad’s death.
And then the second-grader was through. Asked by his grandmother if he had anything more to say, he looked hard at her, put his hand on his chest and said:
“I want to keep it in my heart.”
Just minutes earlier, Dylan Brown had entered the auditorium at police headquarters and experienced something a child his age almost never does--and probably shouldn’t.
There was the line of Los Angeles city leaders, pledging to protect and serve the boy, the only son of a single father with just four years of departmental service behind him when he died.
There was Mayor Richard Riordan, his eyes rimmed red with tears, who said: “As a father who lost a son, I understand the pain, sorrow and sadness that Dennis Brown [Dylan’s grandfather] is going through today. I can’t even imagine the pain that Brian Brown’s son, Dylan, is going through. A little boy who’s lost his father, his hero, our hero. . . . Dylan, none of us can start to understand why this happened to your father.”
There was LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks, standing stoically, who said police officers “are the only people we know who run toward gunfire.”
And there was Dylan.
Standing on a chair, the rail-thin boy peeked over the microphones on the podium and spoke softly to a group of seen-it-all reporters, who were instantly disarmed by the boy and just as quickly forgot any questions they may have had in mind.
“He was the best,” Dylan said, his eyes watering. “He was a great police officer, and I really loved him and I’m going to miss him.”
The room fell silent.
When the officials filed out, Dylan sat on the edge of the stage and said quietly: “He was a nice man. . . . I didn’t want him to die. . . . He just loved me. . . . I really loved him.”
Police say that Brian Brown was on patrol Sunday night when he and his partner saw two men fleeing a murder scene. After a short chase, Oscar Zatarain, an Inglewood gang member, opened fire with an assault rifle, fatally wounding Brown in the head. Zatarain, in turn, was shot to death by other officers at the scene.
Police Identify Other Victim
Police on Thursday alleged that Zatarain and his accomplice, whose identity authorities have yet to disclose, killed Gerardo Sernas, 18, of Santa Monica. Sernas, who emigrated from Mexico just two months ago and worked in a fast-food restaurant, did not appear to have any gang affiliation, authorities said. He, too, was an innocent victim, they said.
After Brown and his killer were shot, Zatarain’s accomplice ran away, stole a taxi parked at a nearby store and was pursued by police to Los Angeles International Airport. The suspect was then shot several times by officers as he tried to flee.
For Brian Brown, who dreamed of becoming a Los Angeles police officer while he was in the Marines, it was the premature end to what officials say was an an extremely promising career. He had recently been promoted to training officer, and he frequently worked overtime.
His father said his son called his dedication to his job “24-7,” meaning 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Browns all shared a home in Long Beach near Dylan’s school.
Dennis Brown and his wife, April, both intensive care unit nurses, were helping Brian raise his son. One of the three adults was always home when Dylan finished school. His grandfather and father shared Cub Scout duty. They all shared homework duty.
They got used to a police officer’s work schedule--in Brian’s case, mostly evening shifts. (“Sometimes he got off late,” Dylan said.) But the officer always called if he was not going to make it home on time.
And they discussed the dangers of being a police officer.
“We talked about it all the time,” Dennis Brown said. “We as a family are very open about it.”
April Brown added: “It’s part of our life every week.”
But as aware of the peril as they may have been, nothing really prepared the Brown family for the shock of having a dozen officers on the doorstep late Sunday night.
“He’d say, ‘The only time you need to worry is when someone shows up at the door,’ ” Dennis Brown said, breaking down. “When I saw them there, my first question was: ‘Is he dead?’ ”
Since then, the family has received an outpouring of sympathy and support that even Chief Parks said he had never seen before.
The LAPD’s Pacific Division, where Brian Brown worked for only the last six weeks of his life, has canceled its Christmas party, instead donating the money to their dead comrade’s boy. The Police Department has set up a trust fund in Dylan’s name to hold the checks and cash donations that have steadily streamed into police headquarters since Sunday.
A Loss That Can’t Be Replaced
But when it is all over and the story disappears from the headlines and television broadcasts, what will be left for this family, torn apart by the senseless death of a young man who by all accounts was a great dad, loving son and outstanding cop?
“The question is: How do you really provide security for the survivors when the deceased has given everything to the city in the line of duty?” said LAPD Deputy Chief David Gascon. “There is no replacing Mom or Dad.”
As city officials pieced together the payments that will be made to the Brown family, Gascon was critical of the city’s overall efforts to help families of officers killed on duty. “I don’t think the city has really done a good job of stepping forward beyond the survivors benefits,” he said.
Brown’s memorial service today at Forest Lawn, for example, will be paid for by the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation--a nonprofit organization that depends solely on donations, because it receives no city funding.
According to the Police Department, the police union and city officials, the family will receive several lump-sum payments, including those from the officer’s two life insurance policies. They also will receive about $9,000 a year from Brown’s pension as well as more than $25,000 a year from the city until Dylan turns 18. He will continue to be covered by medical insurance until he is 18 and will receive a scholarship to a California university.
In addition, the family can apply for a federal grant--$150,000--given to the families of officers killed in the line of duty.
And, every Christmas, Dylan will receive $300 from the LAPD’s memorial foundation.
City officials pledged that Dylan, along with his grandparents, will always get the help and support they need from the LAPD. And Parks said the Browns will always be a part of the LAPD family.
As a grateful April Brown said: “Instead of a nuclear family, we’ve had a nuclear explosion of a family.”
Officers come by at 10 p.m., some drop by to play with Dylan, others to talk to the adults. Two took the boy out for a haircut Wednesday.
The Browns say they are overwhelmed by the support, and Thursday took the unusual step of meeting the media to thank the LAPD and the community.
And yet, his grandparents say, they just want to keep Dylan’s life as normal as it can be. That is, until he stops them in their tracks as he did Thursday: “My dad got shot by a guy with a rifle,” he said matter-of-factly, looking at nobody in particular.
And then his grandfather and grandmother--like the reporters in the auditorium, like the father to whom he’ll never speak again--fell silent.
Donations for Dylan Brown can be made to the Brian Brown Trust, Pacific Community Police Station, 12312 Culver Blvd., Los Angeles 90066. Donations in the officer’s memory can be sent to the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, 150 Los Angeles St., Room 731, Los Angeles 90012.
* STUDY IN CONTRAST: Reflections on the good and bad that can be found in law enforcement. B1