Kevin Brown had reached the end. For months he had been spiraling into despair and on October 20, 2014, he could take it no longer. Leaving his Chula Vista home and his devoted wife of 21-years, he drove to the family’s mountain cabin in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and hung himself from a tree. At 62-years-old, his life was over. But what had driven him to such a desperate act? According to his heartbroken widow, Rebecca Brown, San Diego Police detectives were to blame. Had they pushed her gentle, loving husband over the edge with a reckless investigation and claims he was responsible for the rape and murder of a beautiful 14-year-old girl? Rebecca believed they had and filed a civil-rights and wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the City of San Diego, suing detectives Michael Lambert and Maura Mekenas-Parga, although Lambert was the main defendant. Lambert worked as a detective for 25 years, retiring on September 8, 2017.
After five years of legal proceedings, the case finally came to trial on February 3, 2020, before U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw. In an emotional closing argument, Rebecca’s attorney, Eugene Iredale, told the jury Kevin Brown was an innocent man who killed himself because of an “evil and inept” investigation, begged the jury for justice, and implored them to teach the police a lesson. Chief Deputy City Attorney Catherine Richardson countered the detectives had done nothing wrong and insisted they were just trying to do a fair and reasonable investigation. Other reasons existed for Kevin Brown’s suicide she stated. But the story began almost thirty years ago, with the heartbreaking cold-case murder of 14-year-old Claire Hough.
In the summer of 1984, Claire Hough traveled from Rhode Island to San Diego to visit her grandparents. On the night of August 23, 1984, Hough went for a walk on Torrey Pines State Beach. She never returned home. Early the next morning, a man found her strangled and mutilated body on the beach. Her murder bore similarities to the murder of 15-year-old Barbara Nantais, who had been found on the same stretch of beach six years earlier. Who could have done such horrible acts? The medical examiner conducted an autopsy on Hough and took swabs from her mouth, vagina, and anus. Although she had been sexually assaulted, no sperm was found. DNA testing was not yet available, and the investigation eventually went cold.
Nearly three decades later, in 2012, new testing was performed utilizing the latest DNA technology, and this time, DNA matched two men. The DNA of convicted sex offender and rapist, Ronald Tatro, was found in 13 places, including blood in seven places on Hough’s jeans, three in her underwear, and touch DNA on the zipper. Tatro was no longer alive, having died in a boating accident in 2011. The other DNA seemed unbelievable as it belonged to one of their own: Kevin Brown. He had worked as a criminalist in the San Diego Police Department’s crime lab at the time of Hough’s death, but had never worked on the case. (Brown worked as a criminalist from 1982 until 2002). A trace amount of Brown’s sperm was found on a retested vaginal swab, and the haunting question loomed: how had it gotten there?
Was the simple answer the case was one of accidental cross-contamination, attributed to lab practices in those long-ago days? In the 1980’s, it was standard practice for analysts to store their own semen samples in the lab, which they used as controls to ensure chemicals worked properly before testing of the actual evidence. The semen was dried and kept on small pieces of cloth and stored in envelopes in the crime lab’s refrigerator. Lab analysts used their own samples, but free use of others was generally accepted. Lab standards were not as stringent as today, and analysts did not always wear masks and gloves, and scissors and other instruments were washed with water or alcohol, rather than bleach, which is now known to be best at preventing contamination. As Kevin Brown stored his own semen sample at the lab, wasn’t contamination the explanation? Rebecca Brown’s suit stated it was, claiming lead detective Michael Lambert refused to accept this explanation, embarking instead on a reckless course of action which caused her husband to end his life
The Lawsuit Claims: Violation of Kevin and Rebecca Brown’s Constitutional Rights
Rebecca Brown and the Estate of Kevin Brown raised four constitutional violations. They alleged Lambert violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizures by obtaining a search warrant through judicial deception and drafting an overbroad search warrant. They further alleged both Lambert and Parga seized items beyond the scope of the warrant. A judicial ruling was rendered the search warrant was overly broad, and items were seized beyond the scope. The jury would decide causation and damages for those claims, and further determine whether the warrant was obtained through judicial deception. To do so, they would have to find Lambert submitted his affidavit to a judge with one or more material misrepresentations or omissions and did so with reckless disregard for the truth.
Rebecca further claimed Lambert violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and equal protection of the laws and asked for damages for the loss of the companionship of her husband. The jury would have to find there was deliberate indifference and the violation was a substantial factor for her loss, although it did not have to be the only factor.
Lastly, punitive damages were sought against Lambert, which damages were to punish and deter future conduct. The jury would have to find Lambert’s conduct was malicious, oppressive, or done with reckless disregard to the rights of the Browns.
The Original Testing and the Surprising Admission of John Simms
In 1984, Randy Gibson was an evidence technician and he went to the crime scene of Claire Hough, where he took a vaginal swab. On the witness stand, he said his practice was to do one set of two swabs, yet in this case his report of August 24, 1984, listed one. Did that mean he only used one swab or one set of two swabs? Much discussion was made about this during the trial as in 2012, criminalist David Cornacchia retested two swabs. Had a mysterious second swab appeared?
On August 25,1984, the San Diego Medical Examiner’s office conducted an autopsy on Claire Hough, taking swabs from her mouth, vagina and anus. Testing revealed “no spermatozoa.” Acid phosphatase was found though, which is an enzyme present in seminal fluid, sperm, and other bodily fluid in both men and women. However, it is found to be of a much higher concentration in semen than in any other bodily fluid. Dr. Glenn Wagner, the current San Diego Medical Examiner testified the acid phosphatase was low at 37 m I.U. (International Units), and that anything lower than 50 m I. U. is deemed unreliable. He said the acid phosphatase was probably from a male and the low result could be attributed to pre-ejaculation, sex that had occurred days earlier, or the perpetrator had a low sperm count. He further testified it was the practice of the medical examiner’s office to take two sets of swabs, giving one to the crime lab and keeping one for themselves.
John Simms, who worked for the San Diego Police Department’s crime lab for 36 years, did the original testing of the Hough evidence in 1984. He found no sperm. In sworn deposition testimony in 2016 and 2017, he stated it would have been his standard practice to use only his own semen sample. However, when he took the witness stand at the trial, he came forth with a blockbuster surprise. He now testified he may have used Brown’s semen sample and accidently contaminated the Hough evidence with Brown’s DNA. Perhaps his scissors or lab instruments had inadvertently transferred Brown’s cells to the vaginal swab.
Lambert’s Affidavit and Search Warrant – What Did He Know About Contamination?
Detective Lambert arrived in the homicide cold case unit in December of 2012, after David Cornacchia’s testing was completed. Based on the new test results, Lambert drafted an affidavit and request for a search warrant of Kevin Brown’s home. An affidavit is an officer’s sworn testimony of facts which would allow a judge to find probable cause, the legal standard to issue the warrant. Attorney Richardson told the jury the purpose of the search warrant was to find out if there was any connection between Kevin Brown and Ronald Tatro, and that the affidavit was done after a year of investigation, so there was “no rush to judgment here.” She further said the case was about what Detective Lambert did or did not know when he prepared his affidavit. His 34-page affidavit did not contain one misrepresentation or material omission she maintained. It was reviewed by Lambert’s supervisor, Sergeant Hoermen and Deputy District Attorney Andrea Freshwater. On the witness stand, both said there was no misrepresentation or material omission. Rebecca Brown’s suit claimed otherwise.
The search warrant was obtained through judicial deception argued attorney Iredale, saying Lambert lied in his affidavit and submitted material misrepresentations and omissions with reckless disregard for the truth. Iredale said Lambert knew about the possibility of contamination, but lied when he wrote Jennifer Shen, the crime lab supervisor, said, “contamination is not possible.” So, what did Lambert know at the time he wrote his affidavit regarding the possibility of contamination? It depended on who you asked. Witness testimony conflicted on this issue, and a further problem arose as formal documentation did not exist. Failure to document meetings, discussions, and write reports were further reckless actions Rebecca Brown’s suit contended.
Lambert testified in his own defense and stated he did not know about the semen standards at the time he drafted his affidavit and search warrant. He did not learn this fact until September, a month before Brown committed suicide, when he was told by Rebecca’s family. He was “shocked” to find out this information and immediately contacted Cornacchia to discuss it. He further testified Sergeant Frank Hoermen, the supervisor of the cold case homicide team, told him the lab had conducted their own internal investigation and contamination had been ruled out. Sergeant Hoermen was called to the stand and he testified there was a meeting between the cold case homicide team and lab supervisors and the issue of cross-contamination was brought up as Brown had worked in the lab. (Lambert was not present at the meeting). They were never told the analysts used their own semen samples. He said Jennifer Shen, the crime lab supervisor, and Patrick O’Donnell, the DNA lab supervisor who had also designed and set up the DNA lab, said they had done their own investigation and assured no contamination existed.
On cross-examination, Iredale raised the no contamination statement was related solely to the Cornacchia testing, not to the 1984 testing, when none of them were present. On redirect examination attorney Richardson insisted O’Donnell did not make any distinction and simply relayed contamination was not possible. Sergeant Hoermen further testified he was so concerned about whether there was contamination, he had a follow-up conversation with O’Donnell after he received Cornacchia’s report. Had he been told there was a possibility of contamination, he would have done his own investigation he assured. He informed Lambert contamination was not an issue. But the crime lab supervisors remembered it differently.
Patrick O’Donnell testified he told Lambert contamination had to be examined as an explanation for the DNA. He said there was a meeting in 2013 with the homicide team and he never told them contamination had not occurred. Even in a DNA lab contamination occurs and he would tell police contamination is always a possibility he stated.
Jennifer Shen, the crime lab manager for 25 years, testified Patrick O’Donnell and David Cornacchia came to her office to inform her Brown’s DNA had been found. She really liked Kevin Brown, saying she enjoyed interactions with him, and wanted a thorough investigation. She asked John Simms if he possibly contaminated the evidence, and he said he didn’t think he had and could not envision a way he could have been that careless. He did not believe he could have made that egregious of an error. She testified she told the homicide team the lab could not understand how it could be contamination unless someone did it intentionally or if no care was taken by the analyst. She said she would not have told them contamination was not possible as you can never rule out contamination.
David Cornacchia, a criminalist who has worked in the DNA lab since September of 2000, testified he believes he told Lambert about analysts using their own sperm within 2-3 months of his November 1, 2012 DNA finding and certainly within one year, which would have been well before Lambert wrote his affidavit. Cornacchia told Lambert to talk to the people who worked in the lab in the 1980’s to see if Brown had a semen standard at the lab. On cross-examination, Cornacchia stated he did not take notes of his conversations with Lambert, so he doesn’t know the exact date he told Lambert. Lambert testified he talked with Cornacchia 20 times.
Attorney Iredale also stated Lambert omitted key facts in his affidavit. He didn’t write that neither the coroner or the crime lab originally found no sperm, or that Gibson said there was one swab, yet Cornacchia tested two.
Iredale further said Lambert deceived the judge about Ronald Tatro. Lambert wrote he had a belief Tatro and Brown acted in concert but knew there was no association between Tatro and Brown, He knew of Ronald Tatro’s three violent sexual offenses and that Tatro’s modus operandi was to act alone, as a “predatory lone wolf,” but he chose to ignore this fact in his affidavit. Tatro had assaulted women in three states, Indiana 1974, Arkansas 1979, where Tatro admitted to raping a woman, after he threw her in his trunk and held a knife to her throat. He was sentenced to 40 years and paroled to San Diego in 1982. In 1985 he attempted to kidnap a young woman after using a stun gun on her. Lambert further knew Tatro’s DNA had been found in 13 places, but in his affidavit listed only two.
In closing argument, Iredale told the jury Lambert did all this because he wanted to cap off his career with a 30-year-old cold case that no one else could do except him and he knew the way to do it.
Execution of the Search Warrant and Kevin Brown’s Interviews
On January 9, 2014, Kevin Brown walked in his bathrobe to his front door. There stood cold-case homicide detectives Michael Lambert and Laurie Adams. Why were they here? he wondered. He sat down with them in his living room and the first of three interviews began. Unknown to Kevin, the detectives had a search warrant and 13 officers were about to descend upon his home. Rebecca was present for a brief portion of the interview, but shortly left for work. She figured they were talking to him about a case he had worked on, never realizing her life was about to change irrevocably.
Lambert and Adams soon enough used a ruse to elicit more information. They told Kevin, Ronald Tatro had been stopped and had mentioned Kevin’s name. Did Kevin know him? Kevin tried to remember how he could possibly know him, and in so doing revealed he (Kevin) went to strip clubs, had been involved in photographing nude women, and had visited prostitutes. Perhaps that is how their paths had crossed he opined. The detectives eventually revealed his DNA had been found, and that it was sperm DNA. Kevin initially replied he didn’t know how it got there. He then said it could have been planted or come through contamination. Yet he could not understand how it could be there as in the 1980’s he did not ejaculate in his partner during sex, explaining a woman he was seeing one time thought she was pregnant. Ever since, he feared pregnancy. Much was made during the trial, about whether he said he could not ejaculate at all or whether he just did not ejaculate in his partner.
Later that night, Kevin called Lambert’s boss and asked to speak with Lambert once again. Lambert and Adams returned the next day to Kevin’s home. The detectives asked Kevin how his semen could have got in “that girl.” Kevin answered, “I don’t know. I must have had sex. It’s the only way I can think it got there.” He never mentioned he kept a sperm standard at the lab.
Kevin told the detectives he remembered meeting a woman around the time of Hough’s death and he believed her name was Claire. He had sex with her at the Holiday Inn. “God, I thought she looked old enough,” he said. As they continued the discussion, it became clear to detective Adams that Kevin was talking about another Claire. In fact, he was. Kevin and his friend, Mike Newquist, met two women at a Beach Boys concert in August of 2014. The women were visiting from Sacramento and Kevin had sex with one of the women at her hotel. They all went out together four to six times. Mike reminded Kevin their names were Kathy and Marcy. It was Mike who had had a girlfriend named Claire. That should have put an end to the issue, but then came the call from Pat, Rebecca’s sister.
Pat took the witness stand and testified at the end of January or early February of 2014, she called Kevin and asked him to be honest with her. Did he have sex “with that girl?” She said there was a five second pause and then he answered “Yes.” She called her brother John, who was a criminal defense attorney in San Diego, and he told her she could be in trouble if she did not reveal what she knew. Accordingly, she told detective Lambert. Iredale brought up on cross-examination, Kevin never said the name “Claire.”
Using this information, Attorney Richardson in her closing argument said the detectives didn’t know whether Kevin had sex with Claire, so they had to conduct a fair investigation for all sides. She further questioned why Kevin did not tell the detectives he kept a sperm sample at the lab when he had the perfect opportunity to do so during his interviews. She further argued witnesses said he kept a semen sample at the lab, but there was no evidence to prove that he actually did.
Iredale emphasized Kevin said he did not kill anyone in all three of his interviews.
The Seizure of Items from Kevin Brown’s House
The search warrant authorized items to be seized which were related to Claire Hough, Barbara Nantais, Ronald Tatro, and Kevin Brown. However, 13 police officers removed much more, items having nothing to do with the investigation. They took 20,000 – 30,000 photographs, personal keepsakes, family memorabilia, Rebecca’s teaching supplies, and items belonging to Rebecca’s mother and brother who lived with the Browns. The items filled 14 boxes and four plastic trash bags. Attorney Iredale brought all 14 boxes into the courtroom and displayed them to the jury. Selecting various belongings, he held them up for inspection. Opening an antique suitcase containing baby clothes he read the musings of an 8-year old child’s diary. A 1945 yearbook, the wedding album of Rebecca’s mother from 1951, her cookbook, aged newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, a bible, a note from President Reagan, a wedding invitation, Rebecca’s lessons plans and teaching supplies including the United States Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Magna Carta. As Iredale held select items, he would query, for example, “Did you have to seize a picture of Jesus Christ?”
Detective Lambert testified that within a month and a half he knew there was no evidence in the seized items showing Kevin Brown guilty of a crime. Neither was anything ever found linking Brown and Tatro. Nevertheless, Lambert did not return the items, despite repeated requests and pleading from Rebecca. She testified she must have asked him seven times to return the items.
“If they had just looked it over during the search, they would have realized it had nothing to do the case,” said Iredale. Yet nobody bothered to even make a minimal effort to look he continued. The items didn’t mean anything to anyone except them. “They were their treasures” he stressed. “Why, why, can’t you give them back?” lamented Iredale to the jury. Answering his own question, he said it was because Kevin wanted them back. It was only to cause pain, to put pressure on him to confess. But why? So, Lambert could go out as a star. “You didn’t get a confession. You got a suicide,” pronounced Iredale.
Kevin Brown’s Fragile Mental State & What Return of the Items Symbolized to Him
Kevin Brown had suffered from chronic anxiety and depression since adolescence and had been medically diagnosed with both. He also battled chronic insomnia, had hyperthyroidism, ADHD, and had been the subject of intimidation and bullying. He further had suffered abuse and neglect in his childhood as his mother had spanked him with a stick and withheld love and affection. He was under the care of a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and psychologist, and had taken an array of medications for anxiety, depression, and insomnia. The defense emphasized Kevin was also being treated for anger management and angry outbursts. A long litany of problems to be sure, and as the investigation continued, Kevin’s conditions grew worse.
Rebecca Brown took the witness stand and testified about Kevin’s pain and what the investigation had done to him. But first she talked about her marriage to Kevin. She said on their first date, he kissed her, and she heard the song, “This magic moment.” They married eight and a half months later, with Kevin converting to Catholicism for her. With a smile, she described Kevin as kind, humble, and gentle. A man who loved dancing and cats. Since she loved traveling, she insisted he obtain a passport so they could travel abroad together. Kevin though was not assertive and could not stand up for himself. She tried to encourage him in this regard. As she testified about their happy times together, photographs from her scrapbooks were shown to the jury.
After the police came, Kevin lost 25 pounds in quick succession. On two occasions, she had to take him to urgent care as he had trouble breathing. He wrote in a journal his worst fear was the police would arrest him for murder even though he was innocent, that he would go to jail, where he would be hurt. His reputation would be ruined. Kevin tried to temper his despair, with attempts at positive self-talk, writing a gratitude list, saying positive affirmations, and praying. Yet he was descending into darkness. Rebecca’s mom was very upset her belongings were gone and she kept asking Kevin when they would be returned. He was very sad and distraught. By the end of May, the pressure was building, and Rebecca called Lambert again, begging for the return of the items. Her mother was upset and crying all the time, and Kevin was apologizing, shaking and quiet. John removed all the guns from the house. Lambert told her everything would be returned by the end of June. Kevin was relieved and put up a calendar.
Marking off each day on the calendar became Kevin’s daily ritual. In his mind Rebecca explained, he equated the return of the items to his exoneration. If the police returned the items, to him it meant he was no longer being investigated. Rebecca and Kevin dreamed of the day they would “rejoice in the end of this nightmare,” and had plans to celebrate by staying at a hotel. That day never came. The Brown’s expert, forensic psychologist and neuropsychologist, Dr. Clark Clipson testified that the contact by the police and seizure of property was a significant stressor which changed the course of Kevin Brown’s life and substantially contributed to his suicide.
In defending the decision not to return the items, attorney Richardson said Lambert was waiting for the district attorney’s review. Prosecutor Andrea Freshwater testified she likes to go through everything herself, because “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Attorney Richardson also argued Kevin never said it was causing distress, never mentioning it to his doctors and therapists. Kevin had a lawyer, Gretchen Von Helms, and could have filed for his property back if it was of such urgency Richardson continued.
The City Counters with Their Own Expert
The City brought in their own expert, psychologist Dr. Mark Zelig, who had also worked as a police lieutenant in Salt Lake City. On the witness stand, he listed factors of why Kevin Brown was prone to committing suicide including: Kevin suffered from chronic psychiatric disease and major depressive disorder; had insomnia which was like “gasoline to depression;” had chronic hyperthyroidism which can increase anxiety and depression; had Attention Deficit Disorder, the bullying from his family could reactive wounds from his childhood; marital issues existed as he was angry and resentful his mother-in-law and brother-in-law were living in the house; he had a family history of suicide; and being investigated by the police.
Dr. Zelig went on. He said the most significant factors though were Kevin’s medical non-compliance (not taking medications and no one informing his doctors about a suicide attempt and how dire things had become), his bullying by his family, and “one of the most, if not the most significant factor was his medications being taken away suddenly,” which can worsen symptoms. Rebecca Brown testified on the last weekend of Kevin’s life she took away his sleeping pills as she was concerned he was taking too much. He had already been in two car accidents and she worried for his safety.
Would the jury accept Dr. Zelig’s reasons? Or would they find that Lambert’s conduct was reckless, deliberate indifference, and the violation was a substantial factor for Kevin’s death? The conduct did not have to be the only factor, just a substantial factor.
Kevin Brown’s Final Days
Attorney Iredale told the jury Lambert went to Kevin Brown’s family members and pitted them against each other to cause Kevin more pain. He went to Rebecca’s brother, Steve and his wife Nancy and told them since the judge granted the search warrant, the judge found probable cause Kevin committed the crime. Following this disclosure, Nancy banned Kevin from her house as she was worried for her teenage daughters.
On September 25, 2014, Lambert talked to Rebecca’s brother, John, who lived with the Browns and told him there was no possibility of contamination. He told him Kevin was guilty and to go ahead and ask him. John went home and yelled at Kevin and Rebecca saying they lied to him. The next day Kevin attempted suicide.
On September 26, 2014, Rebecca came home for what she thought would be date night. Instead she found Kevin in bed, groggy, and found a bullet on the floor. There was a type written note to her saying, “Thank you for the last 20 years,” and asking her to thank their neighbor and priest. At the time, Kevin denied it was a suicide note. Attorney Richardson argued no one told Kevin’s medical providers about this incident such that appropriate treatment, even a hospital stay, could have been sought. John told Lambert about this, informing him Kevin was suicidal and he took the guns away again.
In the second week of October, Kevin talked to Lambert who told him, “You know you killed her. I know you killed her. You’re not getting your things back,” Rebecca testified. Lambert told Kevin his property was not coming back to him until he confessed.
On October 15, 2014, Rebecca’s sister, Pat called and talked to John. She said Detective Lambert had called her and said Kevin was going to be arrested and it is “Bye, Bye, Kevin.” John relayed the information to Rebecca who told Kevin. Kevin was “stunned” and in “disbelief.” Detective Lambert denied he ever spoke these words, explaining he would never give such a notice as a suspect could then flee.
On October 20, 2014, Rebecca’s mother saw Kevin come downstairs, dressed nice and shaven. Despite his polished outward appearance, he had reached the end. He killed himself later that day. Rebecca’s life was thrown into agony, but before she could bury her husband there were more attacks.
On October 23, 2014, the police issued a press release stating Kevin committed suicide just as “preparations were being made for Kevin Brown’s arrest.” Rebecca learned about the press release while at the mortuary saying goodbye to her husband. She was very upset they were openly blaming Kevin for Claire Hough’s murder. She wanted a retraction and contacted Chief Zimmerman numerous times. She never received a return call and a retraction was never issued.
Rebecca would also learn Lambert went to Monsignor Duncanson and asked if Kevin confessed. The monsignor told him he could not breach such confidentiality but said Kevin did not confess to rape or having sex with a minor. Rebecca stated he was their spiritual advisor and she felt their sanctity had been violated.
Following Kevin’s death Rebecca had a rosary and mass said for him and then traveled to the mountains to see his last place. She wanted to see where the angels had taken him. She prayed for him and gathered leaves which she keeps in her Bible to this day.
The Attorney’s Final Words to the Jury
In his closing argument, Iredale told the jury, “She seeks a verdict that gives her peace and gives recognition to the pain and horror cause unnecessarily by the conduct of the police.” Fired up, Iredale shouted, “Give us back her husband! Give us back the stuff you should have!” He then asked a series of questions of how one can truly measure a life. For compensation to Rebecca, Iredale suggested 3-4 million and for the Estate of Kevin Brown 8 million. He told the jury it was up to them to decide the amount. “I trust your judgment. I beg you for justice.”
Attorney Richardson argued there was no evidence Kevin committed suicide because of actions by Lambert. She said it was a tragic case, and stated Dr. Zelig told them why: his family’s bullying, Rebecca taking away his medications, and no one telling his doctors how dire the situation had become such that treatment could be rendered. Any damages from the search were minimal she said and asked the jury to award $1 on each claim.
The Jury Verdict
Her heart was in her throat Rebecca Brown would later say as the jury of four men and two women filed into the courtroom. They had deliberated for one day and at 4:10 p.m. the Friday afternoon of Valentine’s Day, their verdict was delivered. For compensatory damages they awarded Rebecca $250,000 and the Estate of Kevin Brown $2.75 million. For the loss of companionship, they awarded Rebecca $3 million. For the Parga violations, $1 for each claim was rendered. As the verdict was being read, Rebecca cried into her hands.
The jury further found Lambert’s actions were done with malice, oppression or reckless disregard such that punitive damages would be awarded. Punitive damages are to punish and deter. The jury was to return the following week to hear testimony on this issue. On February 18, 2020, Detective Lambert once again took the witness stand. Under questioning by attorney Richardson, he said he did not intend to cause harm to Rebecca or Kevin, he was just trying to get to the truth. He was “very remorseful.” He said the verdict was a “gut punch” for him. When asked why the verdict was difficult for him, he answered he spent his entire life in law enforcement and never had his integrity questioned, it damaged his pride, and forever hurt his reputation.
Iredale pounced on Lambert’s answers questioning, “You believe you did nothing wrong?” Lambert answered he believed he was doing the right thing. Again, Iredale asked the question, “You believe you did nothing wrong?” There was a long pause, before Lambert finally said, “I really don’t know how to answer that sir.” In Iredale’s closing argument he told the jury he had wanted to come with a spirit of generosity and simply ask for $1, but Lambert’s testimony made him see Lambert learned nothing. The only thing he took from the verdict was his pride was hurt and he doesn’t want to be in the position to not be able to spend $200 each month on cigars said Iredale. Two words were all Iredale wanted to hear: “I’m sorry.” Iredale said he would let the jury decide on the amount.
Attorney Richardson argued the award of 6 million was already punishment enough and that no punitive damage award would punish Lambert more than the verdict did because it told him he caused Kevin Brown’s death. “He has to live with that for the rest of his life” she said. If the jury were to assess an award, “please, please make it reasonable,” 0 – $10.000.
About an hour later, the jury rendered their verdict. Lambert would pay $10,000 to Rebecca and $40,000 to Kevin’s estate. The city will indemnify Lambert for the $6 million, but the $50,000 will be paid out of his own pocket, although he does have the right to ask the city for indemnification.
The Jury Speaks & Last Words from Rebecca Brown
Many of the jury members spoke to the attorneys and press after the case concluded. Juror Susheel Dharia said that although they believed Lambert learned about the contamination after he wrote his affidavit, once he knew, he should have changed his conduct. They determined Lambert knew around May and deemed it from Cornacchia’s testimony and also the lab experts. Since Lambert had gone through all the evidence and there was nothing to be found, he should have given the items back.
Another juror, William Fleck, said the affidavit painted Kevin Brown as guilty, and Lambert should have added the information to negate it. The search was “completely botched” as no one was in charge. He said Kevin Brown would not have gone over the edge without being put in the position he was. A critical witness for them was John Simms who discussed the lab procedures and how they cleaned with water, not bleach.
Eugene Iredale held a press conference at his office following the verdict. Rebecca Brown spoke through tears saying, “I feel like Kevin has finally been vindicated. My voice was heard. His voice was heard. The verdicts give me some peace. Unless I could make people understand what happened, Kevin’s soul couldn’t rest. Now it can.”
Eugene Iredale addresses the media.
Rebecca Brown with her legal team.
Rebecca Brown discusses the verdict and her fight for Kevin: