By Tasha Poullard – TSU Herald News Editor | Opinions Contributor
Almost everyone I know has seen video footage – countless hours upon end that feature unarmed Black men being gunned down in the streets by law enforcement. We just recently witnessed the trial of former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger who was found guilty of shooting and killing Botham Jean (26) in his own apartment. We moved on from that controversial trial into the case of Atatiana Jefferson (28) – another unarmed citizen of African heritage (a woman) who was fatally shot in her home by another White Officer – Aaron Dean – who resigned after being charged with murder. Keep in mind being charged doesn’t mean being found guilty and sentenced as a result. From the Mike Brown case in Ferguson, MO to Rekia Boyd who was shot in the head by Chicago Police Detective Dante Servin – its literally becoming common place to hear of mostly White law enforcement officers shooting recklessly into Black residences, protest crowds and just simply at Black bodies during routine traffic stops.
So when the story broke back in March of 2018 about former Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Cameron Brewer having shot and killed another unarmed Black man – many of us thought this was another Tamar Rice (12), Philando Castile (32) racially motivated incident. The victim was a Black man by the name of Danny Thomas, and the shooter, was another Black man (former) Deputy Cameron Brewer.
I want to make it clear that I have not had the opportunity to speak with the victim’s family, nor any representatives for the Harris County Sheriffs Department. In which these lines of communication are in the works of being established. But I watched the footage over and over again of the deadly encounter. Asking myself “what would I do if this were me?”
Speaking as a former U.S. Navy Petty Officer trained in the handling of fire arms while providing combative support and physical security. To include a combination of my professional training as a Commissioned Level III Security Officer in the state of Texas – I wanted to do something that many in the Black community aren’t emotionally and psychologically programmed to do – put myself in the boots of (then) Deputy Brewer. This isn’t to say that being in the shoes of the victim isn’t important either. Trust me when I say I did that as well. I conducted research on the Mr. Thomas out of respect and paying homage to his life, and I found that in 2016, Thomas’s then wife – Sheborah Thomas drowned their two children, son Araylon (7) and daughter Kayiana (5). Later hiding their bodies under a neighbor’s home. In which this horrific discovery may have possibly served as the catalyst that sent Thomas over the edge. Causing him to dive headfirst into drug usage to cope with the pain of loss. Which eventually lead to the unfortunate day that Thomas and Brewer met – changing the lives of everyone affected forever….
I can remember seeing this picture while getting ready for class at Texas Southern University. Not knowing that the troubled soul I was witnessing on trial happened to be TSU Alumni. So when he reached out to the TSU Herald back in August of this year, in hopes of conducting an exclusive interview, I was more than happy to oblige. I sat down with Mr. Brewer in our office and discussed that dark day that turned his life completely upside down. He wanted to tell his side of the story! Which was absolutely nothing like what I thought it would be. Like many, I had my questions about the day the incident transpired. Like “Why not pull out your Taser gun instead of your fire arm?” Or “Why not call for backup if you believed he was a threat?” The answers Mr. Brewer gave put everything into a completely different perspective.
“I have been trained on signs but most importantly – I have dealt with this situation first hand” Brewer states.
“The event prior to this shooting incident was almost two years before this one. Were 4 other deputies and I wrestled a subject to the ground, attempting to control him. He was tasered over ten times – and it didn’t work. I could not move his right arm any more than 3 inches. We needed 3 sets of handcuffs to detain him. The only way he was subdued was when EMS arrived on the scene and give him two different shots that knocked him out. Again, we went to the call knowing that he had smoked the substances known as wet” professed Brewer.
Now, Brewer towers over me. He stands about an estimated 6’0 (+/-) and is easily 230 to 240 solid. Many would look at him and believe that he can handle himself – in which I’m sure he can. But Brewer goes onto state that after having that experience with a smaller individual under the influence of the same chemical substance, (two years prior to his encounter with Thomas) it was engrained in his memory of how ineffective an assumed non-life threating operational procedure, such as the utilization of a taser gun – can be on someone under the influence. Brewer didn’t have the options available to him during the Thomas altercation that he had in the incident two years prior. Because again he had no back up and there was no time to call for EMS support. Droperidol – a drug used to sedate erratic subjects – wasn’t even a choice at this particular time. It wasn’t a guarantee that the taser would work and he was literally on his own. Do note that even though tasers are used as a form of non-lethal force upon an assumed perpetrator – tasers can cause what’s called cardiac arrhythmia in subjects that are medically classified as healthy and/or having elevated heart rates. In which can lead to cardiac arrest as a result. And a predisposed heart condition and the use of illegal drugs can significantly heighten such risk. Chances for death are increased when the taser is accompanied by use of force such as positional asphyxia (or compromising body positioning) which often does occur when a subject is being physically subdued. Tasers only offer law enforcement a 50/50 chance of safely apprehending a subject – and this is only if he/she isn’t experiencing an extreme adrenalin rush or high on an illegal substance.
Brewer recalls not even being dispatched to the incident. He just happened to be at the intersection in Greenspoint in Houston, TX where Danny Thomas was wondering with his pants around his ankles. It was reported that Thomas was engaging in altercations with various by-standers at the intersection and attacking people while in their vehicles.
“I didn’t hear a call for this particular situation, I heard our regular calls on the HCSO radio. The area were the shooting occurred was the HPD’s area – so I wouldn’t have been dispatched there anyway. I just happened to be there. I get out of my patrol vehicle when I witnessed a man (Thomas) standing in the middle of traffic with his pants down, beating on the hood of a car in a moving lane of traffic. The driver opens the door and approaches him and pushed him. I knew right then and there – due to my training – that he was high on what we call wet” Said Brewer.
For those of you who don’t know what “Wet” is – it’s the street name for liquid PCP, that can be applied by dipping a marijuana joint or commercial cigarette into the substance and then smoking it once dried. But it’s more often used to coat ordinary cigarettes in order to avoid the appearance of being a controlled substance. Toxicology reports confirmed Brewers suspicion and backed his split decision making that lead to a not guilty verdict.
“I’m a veteran officer, I know what I am seeing and I can tell when someone is on a controlled substance because – again, I’ve been trained to recognize the signs.” Brewer replied.
In the video you can see Brewer order Thomas to get on the ground readily. “I told him to let me see his hands when the driver and him appeared to start the altercation. He (Thomas) then turned around and pointed at me and started walking towards me”. Brewer – backing into a circle demands that Thomas stand down prior to verbally telling him that he will shoot if he doesn’t comply. Once Thomas is within arm’s reach of Brewer – he fires a round into Thomas center mass or his stomach.
I want to make this clear – as a result of my training in security and the military, shooting center mass IS (by law and within the guidelines of standard procedure) strongly encouraged for military, law enforcement, and commissioned security officers as a plan of action – and IS a legally authorized self-defense procedure for those who carry fire arms who are in danger of their personal space being breached. This is another reason why Brewer was found not guilty.
One may ask “Why center mass? Why not in the arm or leg?”
Those in security, the military and law enforcement are trained to center mass because: A. it’s a larger targeted area. Or there’s more space for the bullet to find soft tissue vs a vial organ or a main artery, and B. the subject has a greater chance of survival.
Believe it or not, most ER doctors will state that patients who have been shot center mass survive the encounter at higher rates than someone shot in the arm are leg. Not to mention the fact that shooting someone in the arm or leg doesn’t mean that will stop the subject from advancing or shooting back if they have a firearm. Thus, this doesn’t stop the threat to the officer. People have been known to survive gunshot wounds to the head – because the skull can stop the bullet. Which in many instances can (and has) caused a subject high on a controlled substance to become enraged and attack. The idea is for the officer to protect his/herself in such instances were they haven’t had the opportunity to search the subject in question for weapons, or his/she poses a threat to everyone in close proximity and themselves.
Thomas was already very close to Brewer – who at the time had no backup. Brewer continues to express that he understood the danger he was in that could lead to either A. Thomas gaining possession of his firearm during a potential scuffle, or B. Brewer missing Thomas and hitting an innocent bystander if he aimed for the arm or leg.
I can see Mr. Brewer becoming emotionally moved in telling his story. As someone who’s worked in a pseudo-enforcement capacity, I completely understand his plight. The many sleepless nights that he lay in bed – replaying that scenario over and over in his head are visibly clear. He rebukes tears when giving a recount of that emotional day. Going on to explain his feelings afterwards, as a result of simply following the standard operational procedures. Brewer explained how he sat in his patrol vehicle and prayed. Eyes saturated with tears in hopes that Thomas lived through the ordeal. When it was confirmed that Thomas expired – Brewer tells me he lost all composure – while trying to hold it together during the interview.
Brewer gives details about who supported him during this most vulnerable time of need after carrying out the unfortunate act of taking a life in the line of duty. Something that any human being with compassion for others would find difficult to digest. But! Community support didn’t rally around Brewer. The anger for Brewers actions came from Black elected officials, Houston Law Enforcement Leadership, Black community leaders and Black media representatives who worked diligently to ensure that Brewer’s story was counted among the many White Police Officer involved shootings.
“It wasn’t anything like that. This wasn’t even the same type of case. I not only tried hard not to fire my weapon – but I backed up in circles, giving commands and warnings that were not adhered too.” Brewer pleads.
Brewer received a lot of support from his brothers and sisters in Blue (fellow officers and some leadership). Who are working diligently to reactivate his law enforcement license. They range from police unions to HBCU Fraternity originations that Brewer has found himself working with in efforts to put the pieces of his life’s puzzle back together.
But Brewer wasn’t always a cop. Brewer was once a school teacher in fifth ward with dreams of becoming a school principle. Law Enforcement wasn’t his first choice because he himself had run-ins with the law in his youth.
“I couldn’t stand cop as a kid” Brewer jokes. “They harassed me when I was young – and I never imagined myself becoming one.” Brewer says.
Explaining in more detail “I taught in 5th Ward at Isaacs Elementary. And when the Kids explained living in high crime areas I became a cop so that I could protect the children. I worked as a Cop in Spring and Cy Fair IS (prior to working for Harris County). I applied at those schools when I was pursuing to be a teacher – I only wanted to teach in those areas where strong male role models were needed. But then I started to hear about what was happening to the students that I use to teach – and I said to myself – no one is protecting them! I wanted to use my position to protect those who needed protecting – not shot and kill people”.
I learned that Brewer has been placed in several situations were using his weapon was his last resort – which again is standard protocol for anyone working in a law enforcement capacity. And I sincerely believe that it was never his intention to kill Thomas. Brewer doesn’t have a history of disciplinary reprimand from what I’ve been told. And he’s not one of those deputies that has been reassigned from county to county following a confirmed kill(s). Like some officers who’ve gained national attention for shooting unarmed Black men.
“I’m not one of those loose cannons on the force that has a history of aggressive policing or complaints from the community. Many of the people I serve in the communities I patrol I taught them when they were kids. They recognize me and I’ve saved some of their lives. There’s nothing rouge about me” says Brewer.
Brewer tells the story of how he saved the life of a young man suffering from a sever (life threating leg wound), whom he he learned during the ordeal he use to teach.
“I use to be harder, tougher on my Black male students – because I wanted them to understand that this world is not going to take it easy of them. I would always tell them that I was tough on them because the cops weren’t going take it easy on them. Only to Later became a cop and save the life of one of the young men that I use to tell this too all the time. Had I not been there to calm him down and apply pressure to a leg wound, the paramedics told me personally that he wouldn’t have survived….” Brewer explains.
After saving lives and protecting the innocent, this entire incident has caused Brewer to now suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). At one time he was prescribed a plethora of medication to deal with the emotional and psychological traumas of taking a life, but like most who suffer from said disorder – he’s moved away from medication. What Brewer is experiencing now is the same thing that many military veterans experience after serving in combative zones during war time. Brewer suffers from bouts of depression when he relives what happen and experiences feelings of remorse over the death of Thomas. But he is working towards becoming an advocate for the youth in regards to police interaction – with the hopes of becoming the bridge in the gap of communications between the Black community and understanding how law enforcement handles such situations.