City Paper is not for tourists
Johnny St. Valentine Brown Jr. made a career out of lying under oath. An FBI investigation may add forgery to his résumé.
By now, most Washingtonians know they should take the word of Johnny St. Valentine Brown Jr. with a grain of salt.
Last winter, after all, the former detective singlehandedly created the biggest perjury scandal in Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) history when he admitted to having lied under oath about his qualifications to be an expert witness in possibly thousands of narcotics cases. When a Washington City Paper reporter tried to interview Brown for a story about the case, Brown spent a week claiming to be his own brothera story line that petered out when Brown’s mother revealed that she only had one son (“False Witness,” 7/21).
Make that a shaker of salt.
On the other hand, few locals have any reason to be doubtful when figures like former D.C. Congressional Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy or Office of National Drug Control Policy press officer Robert S. Weiner hold forth about the state of the world. Thus, when a letter bearing Fauntroy’s signature declared, “I only wish there were more police officers of the caliber that Detective Brown was,” and a note from Weiner concluded that “he certainly did more good than he did harm,” District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. took heed of their assessments as he weighed Brown’s sentence.
“Letters have been written by people whom certainly I have immense respect for,” said Kennedy at Brown’s June 2 sentencing, “and they have spoken very well on your behalf….So when I say you are a good man, that’s the basis for my making those statements.” Kennedy then sentenced the 29-year veteranwho had pleaded guilty to eight counts of perjuryto a two-year federal prison term.
Now, though, the letters Kennedy cited might lead to even deeper trouble. According to court records, multiple letters submitted to the judge on Brown’s behalf prior to sentencingincluding the letters from Fauntroy and Weinerwere allegedly fabricated.
The alleged transgression in this case could hypothetically lead to charges of either obstruction of justice or contempt of court, according to a law enforcement official. “Subsequent to Brown’s sentencing, the FBI learned that at least one letter sent to the Court in support of sentencing leniency was not prepared, signed, or sent by the person who purportedly signed the letter,” court records state.
On Aug. 1, Brown reported to a Morgantown, W.Va., correctional institute to begin serving his two-year sentence. Three weeks later, on Aug. 22, the FBI obtained a search warrant for Brown’s Michigan Park residence. The goal: to seize all letter-writing tools. On Aug. 23, agents searched Brown’s home and collected some 30 items, including an Epson computer, two typewriter ribbons, an ink cartridge, computer paper, floppy discs, pens, and pencils. They also seized a Colt .22-caliber pistol, a Smith & Wesson 9-mm pistol, and a Colt .38 Special.
According to the search warrant affidavit, written by Special Agent Thomas J. Schultz, both Fauntroy and Weiner have denied sending letters on behalf of Brown to Judge Kennedy.
“Fauntroy stated he did not know a Johnny V. Brown, Johnny Saint Valentine Brown or a Jehru [Brown’s nickname],” Schultz wrote. “Fauntroy did not write or mail a sentencing recommendation letter for Brown….Fauntroy stated the signature on the letter was not his.”
Fauntroy calls the letter a “joke,” saying that not only did he not know Brown, he didn’t know the original perjury charges against the detective. “I’ve seen the letter that was attributed to me, and it was obviously not true,” he says. “It was very upsetting to me. I was thoroughly surprised….It’s really tragic. Obviously someone has to be out of touch with reality to think they could get away with that.”
The Fauntroy letter submitted to Kennedycurrently held in the court records of Brown’s perjury casehas the former delegate claiming to have known the detective since 1980.
Weiner apparently told Schultz the same story. “Weiner stated he did not write or mail a letter concerning [Brown’s] current case or sentencing,” Schultz wrote.
Though he refused to comment on the details of the case, Weiner did confirm to the City Paper that he had not written the letter that was sent to Kennedyin which he purportedly said that “over time I realized I must come to [Brown’s] aid, as he has done for some [sic] many in the past.”
“I have talked to the proper officials about it,” stated Weiner in a brief telephone conversation, “and that’s all I have to say.”
In the affidavit, Schultz also questioned the validity of several other letters, including missives allegedly from Brown’s former police colleagues. Schultz’s affidavit stated that a review of the letters revealed similar paper characteristics. “Three of the letters had the same hue difference between the front and back of the page,” Schultz wrote. “The three letters bore the same paper characteristics as Brown’s 11/19/1999 letter to [U.S. Attorney Wilma] Lewis…and the 5/26/2000 letter purportedly from Weiner to Judge Kennedy.”
A glance at the letters submitted to Kennedy suggests that they weren’t very good fakes. Letters purporting to come from Weiner, retired MPD Detective Lawrence Coates, retired MPD Sgt. Arnold Nicholson, and William Lucy, the international secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, were not even signed. And none of the letters in question came on personal or office letterhead.
Both Judge Kennedy and U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Channing Phillips refused to comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation. Brown’s attorney, Bertrand Thomas, also refused to talk about the case. “The matter is still under investigation,” Thomas said. “So it would be inappropriate for me to comment.”
These new allegations surrounding Brown’s case are different because the alleged lies affect only the detectivenot any other accused criminals. His previous perjury-tainted testimony has caused a ripple of appeals from defendants convicted in part by Brown. So far, 36 motions have been filed for new trials, according to Phillips. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has conceded in two cases, and lost in another. Nine defendants’ motions have been denied, Phillips says.
Ed Shacklee, the supervising attorney in the criminal division of D.C. Law Students in Court, trained many of the defense attorneys whose clients were put away in part by Brown’s testimony. Shacklee says that the alleged new lies don’t compare with the old ones. “All of the other lies…affected hundreds, if not thousands, of people,” says Shacklee.
As far as Brown’s old bosses at the MPD are concerned, the quicker his name disappears from newspapers, the better. Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer says he is aware of the current investigation. “If it’s true, it’s certainly consistent,” he says. “I’m disappointed for [Brown]…. Clearly, he doesn’t belong on our departmentand isn’t here.”
Gainer adds that the MPD’s own investigation into how Brown rejoined the department in the mid-’90s after the recruitment office rejected his application has just about concluded. He adds that all of the supervisors involved in Brown’s rehiring no longer work in the department. “I’m comfortable that we shouldn’t be exposed to that kind of liability again,” he says.
Brown’s June guilty plea left friends and former co-workers mystified by his actions. No matter what type of procedures are put in place, the detective was a good enough liar to make many people true believers. And at least one of those true believers says his opinion hasn’t changed as a result of the alleged forgerieswhich, he says, don’t include his own letter to Kennedy.
Detective Mark Stone says he wrote his letter on Brown’s behalf. Stone, Brown’s longtime partner in the MPD’s Narcotics Branch, says he was questioned by the FBI and confirmed the authenticity of his letter. He still sticks by it. “I just simply gave my opinion based on my experience with him,” Stone says. “I guess I wasn’t hoping for anything. I wrote the letter and left it in the court’s hands.” CP