Friday, July 23, 1999
of Perjury, Police Expert Resigns
by Bill Miller
One of the D.C. police department's top narcotics experts
suddenly this week amid allegations that he has lied under
about his credentials.
Johnny St. Valentine Brown Jr. has offered his expertise in
of cases over the past 20 years, helping prosecutors win
convictions. Among other things, he has testified that he has a
in pharmacology from Howard University, a contention that
he has a special knowledge about the chemical makeup and
of drugs. But Howard officials say they have no records that
even attended the school.
Barring the possibility of an unfortunate mix-up, Brown's days
a witness appear to be over. Police officials put Brown on
leave last week and were contemplating further action
he submitted his resignation Wednesday. The U.S. attorney's
has begun its own investigation.
If it turns out that Brown has committed perjury, defense
said they could challenge convictions in cases in which
used him as a key witness.
"They were very proud of him and his credentials and the way he
himself," said defense lawyer Bernard S. Grimm, a partner in
firm of Grimm, Petras & Wieser. "He was used and reused for the
cases, which now presents a real problem for them. It's going
have a domino effect."
Brown did not return telephone messages left at two recent
A charismatic speaker, Brown's testimony often made a big
in court, Grimm and others said. He expressed opinions, for
about whether defendants were carrying drugs for sale or
use. The distinction can tilt juries to convict on drug
charges, which carry much longer prison terms than
Brown, 56, who uses the nickname Jehru, was respected by area
and opposing lawyers because he so clearly could describe the
trade--from the slang used on the streets to the techniques used
package crack cocaine for resale. He formally retired as a
in 1995 but was rehired by the department three days later
a contract basis. The arrangement enabled Brown to draw a $46,700
salary on top of his $65,000 police pension.
On the witness stand, Brown typically would begin his testimony
reciting details about his background, including his schooling.
in turn, led judges to designate him as an expert witness.
No one is questioning Brown's law enforcement skills.
And no one apparently questioned his educational background,
until lawyers in a pending civil lawsuit decided to verify
he had a doctoral degree.
Brown was to be the expert witness for the District government
a lawsuit brought by the mother of Eric Butera, a police informant
was slain while trying to help homicide detectives solve the 1997
slayings at a Starbucks coffee shop in Northwest Washington.
attorneys intended to use Brown to explain how police use
and to describe the department's policies.
Butera's mother, Terry, filed a $115 million civil suit
that police failed to warn her son about the risks of working
an informant and then failed to protect him. The trial is scheduled
begin Oct. 5 in U.S. District Court. Brown was to testify that
procedures were followed.
At a June 22 pretrial deposition, Peter Grenier, an attorney
the Butera family, asked Brown to state his highest level of
attained and when he reached it.
"Well," Brown replied, "my highest level of education
doctorate, 1972, in the field of pharmacology, Howard University."
"So you have a PhD in pharmacology?" Grenier asked.
"That's correct," Brown said, adding that he also had attained
and master's degrees in the same subject from the school.
After the deposition, Grenier contacted Howard.
In a June 30 letter, officials reported they couldn't find any
Grenier then accused the 28-year police veteran of perjury,
court papers asking that he be disqualified as a government
Attorneys for the District said Brown told them he would
proof that he had the degrees. So far, Brown has come up with
documentation, law enforcement sources said.
Officials at Howard University said yesterday that they searched
Brown's records using his name and Social Security number and
U.S. District Judge June L. Green has ruled Brown cannot
as an expert in the Butera case.
At a hearing yesterday, Assistant Corporation Counsel Thomas L.
described the events as "a very serious problem and
The developments led to investigations by the D.C. police and
U.S. attorney's office. Channing D. Phillips, a spokesman for U.S.
Wilma A. Lewis, confirmed the matter is "under internal
and added, "It would be premature and inappropriate to comment
further at the present time."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.