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Det. Linda Brown Sentenced to Prison Despite Colleagues Pleas for Mercy

By Anne La Jeunesse

Santa Monica Police Detective Linda C. Brown was sentenced Wednesday to 11 1/2 years in state prison for the Oct. 1, 1997 shooting of her former lover, a married fellow cop, in what she claimed was self-defense and he claimed was a classic act of a woman scorned.

The verdict stunned Brown and her attorney, Harland Braun, who had cited her nearly 13-year police career and lack of any prior criminal record in his request for probation, which he noted was not opposed in a sentencing memorandum to the court prepared by Brown's probation officer.

Several current and former Santa Monica Police Department officers, as well as a Santa Monica judge, wrote letters vouching for Brown's character and imploring Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Andrew C. Kauffman to grant her probation, to no avail.

"This is terrible," Braun said Wednesday as he sat in his Westside office preparing Brown's appeal.

Judge Kauffman sentenced Brown, 38, the Santa Monica Police Department's first female motorcycle cop, to 18 months for the attempted involuntary manslaughter charge and 10 years on an enhancement for use of a firearm. A three-year sentence for an enhancement of causing great bodily injury to Cummings, who was wounded several times, was stayed.

Cummings attended the sentencing in Torrance, Braun said, but did not make a statement.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury in Torrance convicted Brown on May 24 of attempted voluntary manslaughter in the shooting and wounding of her former lover and patrol partner, Kevin Cummings, 39.

It was the second jury to hear Brown's case. The first jury deadlocked, voting 10-2 to convict her of the lesser charge. She had originally been charged with attempted murder.

Brown and Cummings had had a frequently volatile relationship while both worked for the police department, and both gave differing versions of the night of the shooting.

Brown said that Cummings attacked her in her Ladera Heights home, and Cummings said he went there to break off their affair after deciding to make a go of his marriage. Wherever the truth lies, what is documented is that Brown shot Cummings with a .22 caliber handgun and that he left to get help, tossing the gun onto a Los Angeles street on his way to a telephone or hospital.

In the hours that followed, Cummings told several false tales to his wife, investigators from other cities and medical professionals in an effort to conceal his relationship with Brown.

Braun said that to sentence Brown to the lowest possible term, 18 months for the attempted involuntary manslaughter conviction, but to the highest possible term allowable for the use of a gun, does not make sense.

"You'd think if you gave the low term for the (attempted involuntary manslaughter), that you'd also give the lowest term for the use of the gun," Braun said Wednesday.

Braun has long contended that the case was clouded with racial overtones - Cummings is African-American, Brown is white.

"I think it's political. Police officers are in the news now, with the shooting in Riverside and others," Braun said, referring to the firing of four police officers in connection with the fatal shooting of Tyisha Miller. "Judges sense now that maybe it's in their interest as they climb the judiciary ladder to be tough on police officers. This judge can now say 'I'm tough on police officers.'"

But Deputy District Attorney Gary Nielsen, who prosecuted Brown in both trials, said that he is satisfied with the sentence. Brown faced a maximum possible sentence of 15 1/2 years in state prison, he said.

"The court seemed to find 10 years appropriate because he (Kauffman) stressed that she didn't fire the weapon just once, she fired it five times, and with very deadly accuracy," Nielsen said, noting that one of the shots hit Cummings in the chest. "She's a police officer, and she knows what she's doing."

Officially, the Santa Monica Police Officers Association released a prepared statement through SMPOA Vice-Chair Steve Bickler, about Brown's sentence:

"The men and women of the Santa Monica Police Officers Association must accept the sentence given Linda Brown today. The Justice system was again forced to address a tragic situation that has sad, life-long ramifications for all of those involved: the two officers themselves, their families, friends and co-workers, the department and the community.

"Both Linda Brown and Kevin Cummings had established careers in law enforcement, and served their community with pride. The circumstances of this case, however, portray the fact that we, as police officers, are none-the-less human, and subject to the same frailties of the general public.

"This situation makes us all reflect upon our lives and actions, as well as focusing further upon helping those around us who are in need."

The vague tone of that statement, however, is contrasted by letters of support for Brown submitted to the court by Braun.

One of those letters was written by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Neidorf, who got to know Brown because he sits in Santa Monica Court.

Neidorf repeatedly noted that because of judicial ethics, he could not write to Kauffman on Brown's behalf, but addressed his comments to Braun.

In a June 28 letter Neidorf said he was saddened and shocked at Brown's conviction and added that he had always held her in the highest regard professionally, ethically and morally.

"My first instinct was to call the probation officer (or shout from the tallest building in Santa Monica) that she doesn't belong in jail, and that she has suffered so much emotionally since the shooting occurred," Neidorf wrote.

"To think of Detective Brown doing jail time turns my stomach. If I could ethically write a letter to the judge and probation officer, I would do so, but the canons of ethics prohibit it," he continued.

Santa Monica police officer Shane Talbot, with whose family Brown stayed during her trial while she was free on bail, wrote that her imprisonment will be a loss not just to the law enforcement profession, but also to "society as a whole."

Talbot's wife Roberta, a civilian employee of the department, said that Brown overcame a deleterious family life to become a decent human being, who, contrary to what the jury decided, functioned as she was trained -- to shoot an attacker until the attacker is halted.

Cummings, she said, took advantage of Brown during a particularly difficult time in her life, Roberta Talbot wrote.

"Kevin appears to be very talented in smelling out vulnerable women and taking advantage of their situations," Roberta Talbot wrote.

"Her error in this incident should not cost her more of her life than it already has," she concluded.

Sgt. Steven H. Brackett stated in his June 14 letter to Judge Kauffman that Brown had a tragic personal life compounded by the "scrutiny and negativism" of her supervisor in the department's investigations unit , but was nevertheless a caring officer.

"I can see no rehabilitation benefit from placing Linda into further custody," Brackett wrote. "She has confronted responsibility for her actions, worked over the past year-and-a-half to refocus her life outside of law enforcement, and will have to live the rest of her life with the shame of what has occurred.

"She has endured a great deal. I hope the court will allow the positive steps she is taking to rebuild her life to be fruitful, and thus let her embark without the stigma of further time in custody."

Jack Fuller, a retired Los Angeles police officer and Santa Barbara County Sheriff, who now lives in Hawaii, wrote that Brown, worked in a coffee shop while in the police academy.

While free on bail, he wrote, she had taken a job as a security company dispatcher, the closest thing to law enforcement she could do.

Fuller, also, asked that Brown be granted probation.

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