By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Wood, with the department just three years, got a promotion after the chase. Supervisors moved the former kickboxing instructor and Rhode Island corrections officer to special investigations, where she now works with Agent Kapper.
At least one of the officers involved, however, quit in part because of the incident. Bufford, a cop for only a few months when the chase happened, resigned less than a month later. "It was part of the reason," Bufford says from her West Palm Beach home, but she declined to elaborate further. In her July 22, 2002, resignation letter to the department, Bufford claims "rumors and disrespectful comments" led to her decision to leave. "I feel that I am no longer able or capable to be a part of this police department."
The evidence against Brown seemed to be diminishing before the investigators' eyes.
Cops searching the Toyota failed to find a gun, a brown paper bag, or any sign of the "quarter-kilo of drugs." They chalked it up to the fire, though documents in the court file carefully describe an array of items in the Toyota, right down to the color of Davis' underwear and the yellow lighter in Maynor's pocket.
Officers who claim to have witnessed the drug bust can't say who was driving the Toyota, according to court records. The car's tint prevented them from seeing inside. Absent from the investigation, apparently, was the high-tech surveillance equipment often used in drug busts. In statements he made for the case, Kapper has said they didn't expect to do more than pull over the Toyota and make a simple arrest.
Kapper and the DEA agents have teamed up before to convict drug dealers by using tactics that have been attacked by defense lawyers. In August, Kapper and the DEA agents oversaw the conviction of Elroy "Eighty-Six" Phillips, whom they claimed to be one of West Palm's biggest drug kingpins (see "86ed" in New Times, September 18, 2003). In that case, lost police reports and the testimony of felons receiving remuneration helped to convict Phillips.
In strikingly similar circumstances, Phillips was convicted after Kapper claimed to have witnessed a drug deal that the task force failed to catch on audiotape or videotape. Phillips is now serving 30 years in federal prison. Phillips' attorney, Randee Golder, says Kapper and his DEA colleagues are well-known for their aggressive tactics. "Certainly," she says, "there's a history of these guys jumping out of vans in ninja outfits and pinning a whole group of people against the wall. I can't say that they're overly aggressive, but their names do come up a lot in these kind of cases."
The fact that Brown ended up on America's Most Wanted may indicate problems in the case, Rosendahl says. Brown's parents and others have testified that he was living at home during the time police say he was on the lam, and his doctors affirm that he came several times a week for checkups at the West Palm hospital. Churchill says deputies went to the Jensen Beach home of Brown's parents but never made contact with anybody. The sergeant says they were hampered by the fact that they don't have the right to arrest someone in Martin County, relying instead on local law enforcement to tag along. "We did a lot to look for him," Churchill says. "That, I can assure you."
At a recent court hearing, Brown's mother, Margaret Green, disagreed. "My baby, he was with us the whole time," Green said, after angling her son's wheelchair out of the courtroom doors. "Then they put him on TV and said he was a criminal. It's not right what they did to him. It's not right." Even the family of Porsha Davis has backed Brown's attempts to clear his name, testifying in court about his good character and asking the state to drop the charges.
Perhaps most damning to the state's case, however, is the DNA evidence investigators collected from inside the Toyota. Investigators hoped some of the blood found on the driver's side of the car would lead to Brown, a clear-cut sign that he was driving. In November of last year, the sheriff's office crime lab issued its analysis of the blood samples, finding that the blood on the driver's-side door belonged to Jerome Maynor. In the report, Senior Forensic Scientist Tara L. Sessa determined: "Duane Brown... is excluded as a contributor to this DNA profile."
Judging by his record, Jerome "High Class" Maynor may have had more to do with the fatal chase than cops first claimed. Brown knew that his friend, whom he met ten years ago when Maynor was dating his sister, had just gotten out of jail. But he didn't know the details of what Maynor had done to get there. In fact, his conviction had also had to do with a crime committed behind a steering wheel.
On February 15, 1997, Stuart Police Officer John Miedzianowski pulled Maynor over for driving erratically. Maynor had a cooler with open liquor bottles in the back seat, Martin County court records show, and Miedzianowski ordered him to get out of the car. Maynor refused, and the cop reached inside to pull him out. Maynor then shut his window on the cop's arm. As Miedzianowski struggled to free himself, Maynor slammed the car in reverse, crashing into the police cruiser behind him. Miedzianowski finally broke free by smashing the window with his left hand, and Maynor sped off, weaving recklessly through traffic on U.S. 1 in Stuart. He sideswiped two cars before finally stopping for cops about five miles after the chase began. A judge sentenced Maynor to 36 months in prison for aggravated fleeing, leaving the scene of a crash, and aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer. Maynor got out of prison June 28, 2002, the day before the fiery crash that claimed his life.