By Vincent Heck
December 14th: The first quarter was a disaster.
The Philadelphia Eagles had fallen behind 21-0 to the hated Dallas Cowboys in the most important game of the season. The game was enough to put 26-year-old Brandon Tate-Brown to sleep for an entire half.
Brown woke up at halftime to a third quarter Eagles’ comeback. Their 24-21 lead, however, would later turn into a 38-27 loss. He spent the remainder of that relatively warm Sunday evening watching the disappointing defeat at his mother’s house.
It would be the last NFL game Brown ever watched.
Despite that the Eagles’ loss and the overall disappointment in an utterly dismal year in Philly sports, Brown had every reason to be happy.
He had started to put his life back together after a string of run-ins with the law, including an incident that landed him a five-and-a-half year prison stint. About seven years ago, a man assaulted his girlfriend with a pipe, and Brown reacted in a way that he’d end up deeply regretting, according to his friends and social media posts. It was a reaction rooted in witnessing domestic abuse as a child.
It wasn’t an unproductive regret, however. The regret made him stronger. It fueled his motivation to grow into a better man. Admittedly, he struggled, but he had rebounded with a new apartment, rental car company job, and plans to attend school. He seemed optimistic about his future.
Just five days before his death, Brandon text messaged a good friend (who has requested anonymity for privacy reasons) about the positive direction his life was taking. “I haven’t felt like this in a minute,” he told her.
“He was so thankful, and happy!” she recalls. They were beginning to rekindle a friendship delayed by his five year imprisonment, and had made plans to see each other the following Wednesday. His death is “just so unbelievable,” she told me. “His life was stolen.”
Her last text to him, sent a few minutes after midnight, read: “Keep being positive.”
Nearly three hours later, during what law enforcement describe as a routine traffic stop followed by a scuffle, Brown was shot in the back of the head. Almost four weeks later, the police department’s account remains very ambiguous.
While authorities have been reticent to release much detail regarding Brown’s case, I spoke to the private investigator hired by the Brown family to fill in the gaps in the information provided by police. Former corrections officer-turned P.I., Greg Brinkley, told me what he’s learned so far:
Brandon showed up to his mother’s house at 7:15 p.m. on December 14th to watch the Eagles/Cowboys game on television. At some point that night, he was invited by a friend of his to “come chill”, and later that evening after the football game, he left to pick her up and go back to his new apartment.
On the drive back to his place, she jokingly asked him about the rental car, a white Dodge Charger. He explained to her that it was from his job at Hertz, and that he was due to pick up his actual car the next day.
Brown brought this young lady (who spoke to me on condition of anonymity) back to his apartment to hang out.
“This was a man who was excited about having his own place and being on the right track,” she told me in a phone conversation. “I was teasing him, like, ‘Brandon, why don’t you have any furniture in here?’ Cause, you know, he had just moved in and only had a futon.”
Sometime after midnight, she and Brandon left his apartment to drop her off at her brother’s house in Mayfair. On the way there, they stopped at a 7-Eleven convenience store near Frankford and Dyre. “He was on the phone with another woman the whole ride over,” she recalls.
Brinkley, the P.I., has reviewed store camera footage indicating the vehicle’s headlights were on – a fact that seemingly does not fit nicely with official claims that the Charger’s headlights were off when they pulled him over. Brown then dropped her off at approximately 2:30 a.m., nearly 15 minutes before the police encounter.
“He didn’t have a gun the whole time I was with him,” she adds.
The Declaration was unable to obtain the convenience store video from the proprietor.
Police allege that two patrol officers pulled Brown over because his rental car’s headlights were out. According to the private investigator and another source close to the family’s investigation, Brandon was still on the phone with the woman he was talking to while dropping off his friend. As the police approached his car, he set his phone down with the call still live. A portion of Brown’s initial conversation with the police officers was overheard by the woman. Two cops questioned him about the white Dodge Charger, according to the caller.
Brown responded that the car was from his job at Hertz. He then offered the officers proof of employment to help them verify. At that point, the phone call ended.
According to the police account, it was at that point the officers allegedly saw the butt of a handgun sticking out from the center console of the white Dodge Charger. Per police procedure, they asked Brown to exit his vehicle. According to their statement, he complied. But then, without so much as a period or a sentence in between to explain, their account goes on to describe a belligerent Tate-Brown “struggling” with the police and attempting to “force his way back into the Dodge” to retrieve the alleged weapon. This is when they shot him in the back of the head – just above and behind his left ear.
According to an Instagram photo taken after the incident by a witness the private investigator has since been unable to track down, Brown’s body lay crumpled on the sidewalk and on the passenger side of the car. Authorities have given no explanation for how or why Brown ended up there instead of on the driver’s side. I also pointed out other inconsistencies regarding this case last month.
Brinkley expressed deep concern over apparent injuries sustained by Brown in postmortem photos shown to The Declaration. The photos suggest a combination of typical postmortem blood pooling, as well as contusions from possible blows to the left side of Brown’s face and head, in addition to scrapes on the front side of his left shin.
“They beat the hell out of him,” suggested Brinkley.
The Declaration has not published these photos at the request of Brown’s family.
Brinkley also confirmed, after speaking to the owner of Lock’s Philadelphia Gun Exchange, a business near the site of the incident, that a surveillance video was confiscated by investigators.
“We know that there’s one video that was confirmed [to have been] given to the police by a gun shop owner,” he said. “And we have still been trying to ascertain other videos that we [think may exist],” Brinkley said.
“There are more questions than answers,” he added. “That’s usually a sign that there’s something wrong.”
Brown’s mother, Tanya Brown, had to learn of her son’s death on the radio in the parking lot of her place of employment. To this day, the Philadelphia Police Department has not spoken a word to anyone in the Brown family.
When I reached out to 15th district police to gather an explanation as to why they haven’t spoken to his relatives, their response, in so many words, was that there’s nothing much to say. “Sometimes it’s best to give them time to grieve,” a police representative said.
Nearly four weeks have passed, and grieving family and friends are still left with myriad unanswered – and unsettling – questions.
“It’s as if they threw my son’s story and life away with the trash,” Tanya Brown told me. “I will say again, I am ashamed of my country and the three branches of our system for allowing such an alarming rate of police brutality to continue.”
Ms. Brown emphasized, however, that she does not hate the police. “I hate how they abuse their power and activate their code of silence,” she reiterated. “I just want the footage.”
“Shut me up and prove your story of my son’s wrongdoings,” she says of the police, as the four week mark of her son’s death approaches. “I don’t think they can, and that is why nothing has come forward. Brandon was executed and they cannot prove otherwise.”
Dustin Slaughter contributed to this report.
Guest contributor Vincent Heck was born in Phoenixville, PA, a semi-quaint Philadelphia suburb. He started his journey as a writer at 9-years-old, writing about everything he could for his family. His professional writing venture started in 2006 while working in a world-acclaimed New York City publishing house. Having published over 400 articles for Yahoo!, Heck is known for his prolific beginning in sportsblogging. He is now working on his third fiction novel set to release in 2016.