An investigation into the hanging death of a Black man found in a Northern California park has been reopened after the family and community expressed concerns that the surrounding circumstances were suspicious.
Willie Brown Jr., 38, was found hanging from a basketball rim in Countryside Park in Sacramento on Oct. 19.
In response to a report from an unnamed witness made around 8:30 a.m., Sacramento Metro Fire Department Station 51 responders arrived on the scene, cut Brown down from the rim, and performed life-saving measures to keep him breathing as he was transported to the hospital.
Brown spent eight days on breathing machines and died on Monday surrounded by family after being removed from life support. He leaves behind four children.
Sacramento Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Rodney Grassmann told the Sacramento Bee newspaper last week there was no evidence of foul play or any indication that that the death was “anything but a suicide.” Brown’s family and the community raised suspicions about his death, and the case remains open.
“Something just doesn’t add up,” said Willie’s mother, Sandra Brown at a vigil last week, “and I’m demanding a thorough investigation of what happened to my son. The boy that I know couldn’t have done anything like this to himself.”
Brown’s family is saying the sheriff’s department has released little information to them, and even less has been publicly released. His parents believe the case has been mishandled. Willie Brown Sr. said the detective did not mention having found a ladder, stool, or anything at the scene that could have been used to commit the act.
Hanging oneself from a 10-foot regulation hoop without some sort of ladder or stool would be difficult, to say the least.
Brown’s brother Jonathan Brown said last week while Willie remained unresponsive on life support that he did not want authorities to “try to sweep it under the rug.”
“I want to get to the bottom of this,” he said during a vigil for his brother. “I just hope that somebody in this community say that they seen something. … I’m not taking that suicide for an answer.”
The family is requesting a full investigation by the FBI Hate Crimes Unit.
“We have seen a pattern of Black men being hung over the last few months all the while witnessing the violence white supremacist terror groups have been planning and executing in the same time frame,” wrote Brown’s eldest son Jaysean Brown on the family’s GoFundMe page.
Several Black men have been found hanged in trees this year, prompting allegations of foul play, even as the deaths were ruled suicides by authorities. But in some instances, such as in the cases of Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsch, the families of the deceased ultimately accepted the suicide rulings.