Missing Leg

The cops tagged amputee Duane Brown as one of "America's Most Wanted," but now he's fighting back

Next, there's an interview with investigator King. "I never thought in a million years," King says, "that in Duane Brown's condition that he would be able to flee."

"But Matt got the shock of his career," the reporter breaks in, "when he called the hospital several weeks later to check on Duane Brown's condition. He learned his one-legged suspect was gone."

The show cuts to an interview with an expert in artificial limbs who explains how to spot the limp and sound the prosthetic leg makes when Brown walks. An amputee, maybe -- but, the correspondent warns, he's dangerous. "The ones that he killed," King says, "were his girlfriend and his best friend. And it could've been anybody."

Brown's attorney, Kristine Rosendahl; his baby, Dakari; and his girlfriend, Cathalina Green.
Brown's attorney, Kristine Rosendahl; his baby, Dakari; and his girlfriend, Cathalina Green.

On the Monday following the show, Brown turns himself in at the sheriff's office. America's Most Wanted runs a follow-up explaining that "Duane Brown is no longer limping from the law."

For Brown, it's as if his guilt is already decided. The show claims he's a fugitive from justice and a killer, and now he faces two counts of vehicular homicide.

"It was like it was happening to somebody else or something," Brown remembers of his first days in jail. "I mean, it was like a dream or something and I woke up as somebody else. I thought, 'This is it.' I mean, I didn't know if they were ever gonna let me out." It seemed over for him. At least until the state started building its case.

One question the show didn't address is whether there had been a high-speed pursuit. The West Palm Beach Police Department forbids such chases, unless a suspect is armed or otherwise poses a danger. Officer Wood notes in the television episode that she made the quick decision to break off the chase, as per department policy. But radio communications, recorded that day and available in court documents, tell a different story. Evidence of a chase may not prove Brown's innocence, but it could show that authorities bear part of the responsibility for the high speeds of the wrecked car, attorney Rosendahl says. "They should not have been chasing him that day, period," she says. "It shows, at the least, that these officers are unreliable."

After the three cop cars follow the Toyota onto 45th, West Palm Sgt. Daniel Henry asks for an update. "Did you try blue lighting already, and he's not stopping?"

"Ten-four," responds Wood, who had never been in a high-speed chase before. "He's not stopping. Just crossed Congress [Avenue]."

There's no indication from the encounter in the KFC parking lot that the Toyota's occupants are dangerous, but the task force clearly wants this bust. Among those who seem most interested is Brian Kapper, one of the department's most active antidrug agents. Early in the pursuit, Kapper tells the other officers that the Toyota's occupants are "possibly signal zero," the code for armed with a gun.

Henry, using a radio at police headquarters, isn't satisfied with Kapper's claim. With Wood's cruiser, Kapper's unmarked Taurus, and another patrol car tailing the Toyota on 45th, Henry asks them, "You got a supervisor with you?"

"Negative," Kapper responds. "I'm, uh... I'm trying to get with a, uh... another agency right now [to] reference this."

Henry still wants assurances. "All right. I need to know real quick, 'cause, uh... you know we have policy restrictions."

Henry's concern comes too late. One of the officers in pursuit, Lysa Bufford, radios that "he may have... signal four'd," the code for car crash. "Hit an electricity pole," Bufford explains as she arrives. "Car... had a rather explosion."

Many of the dozen or so witnesses to the crash can't say for sure whether they saw police in pursuit. Drivers of the Dodge and the Corolla that were sideswiped say it all happened too fast to know for sure. "We heard sirens," recalls Debbie Shields, a passenger in the Intrepid driven by her husband, Chuck. She says cops pulled up shortly after the crash, but the Shieldses aren't sure just how quickly. "I don't believe they were using excessive speed."

But another witness had a better view. Minutes before the crash, Marlene Alonso had left her job as cake decorator at Winn-Dixie. She had forgotten something at the supermarket, and she was about to make a U-turn on 45th and North Shore Drive. That's when Brown's Toyota came racing toward her, with cops directly behind it, she says. "I mean, they were right behind them," Alonso says. "They were in full pursuit." Newspaper articles after the accident claimed cops broke off the chase, but Alonso says otherwise. "It was unit after unit. They had their sirens and lights on. The whole bit."

West Palm officers adamantly insist there was no high-speed pursuit. An internal affairs investigation cleared them of any wrongdoing, despite the incorrect claims of a gun in the car (none was ever found) and evidence that there was a chase. The sheriff's office took over the criminal investigation. Sgt. John Churchill, who was in charge of the inquiry, agrees with West Palm police that there was no chase. Alonso may be lying, he says. "People say lots of things," Churchill says. "Who knows if they are just trying to get attention in the media? Then they get on the witness stand and say something completely different."

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