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Arrested Activist: I Flashed Brights at Cops Before Alley Standoff Got Ugly

By Wendell Hutson | May 24, 2013 9:41am
 Catherine Brown, 38, denied trying to kill a Chicago Police officer during an altercation behind her Auburn Gresham home.
Mother Says She Feared for her Life
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AUBURN GRESHAM — A South Side activist who is a former community policing volunteer and local school council member denied she tried to kill a Chicago Police officer during a traffic stop — and said she was the one who got roughed up by cops to the point that she feared for her life.

Catherine Brown, 38, has been charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery of a police officer in a May 13 incident near her home in the 8300 block of South Kerfoot Avenue.

Brown is free on $25,000 bond, but she said police involved in the case are telling "lies" to cover "their butts," and she plans to fight the charges in court. She said she is furious about how police treated her and her young children in her car.

"I am a wife, mother of three and longtime community activist, but I am not the evil person police have made me out to be," Brown said in an interview with DNAinfo.com Chicago this week.

Brown has filed a complaint with the Independent Police Review Authority. Authority spokesman Larry Merritt confirmed that "an investigation has been initiated" into Brown's claims.

Brown is a former charter school teacher and founder and CEO of Neighborhood Rebound, a nonprofit that provides mentorship for boys. She is an alumnus of nearby Garrett Morgan Elementary, where she later served on the local school council, and Simeon High School. She said she was a community policing volunteer from 2006 until last year.

Early last week, Brown said she had gone to Wal-Mart with her two daughters — ages 1 and 8 — to buy diapers.

When she returned to her home, she drove her 2009 Lexus down the alley behind her house to park her car and "encountered the police also driving through the alley," she recalled.

At her bond hearing last week, prosecutor Heather Kent said the two cars met "head to head" at 9:15 p.m.

"The alley is narrow, so one of us would have to back out to let the other one pass," Brown said. "I let my window down and started pointing at my house, telling the police I live here. I meant to turn on my left turn signal, but accidentally turned on my bright lights. That's when the male officer driving got on his speaker asking why was my bright lights on, so I turned them off."

She said an officer in the squad car — later identified as Michelle Morsi — then appeared to grow impatient.

"The female officer on the passenger side jumped out the car and said, 'B----, back the f--- up now.' At that point, I was in fear of my life and called 911."

The Office of Emergency Management and Communications confirmed Brown placed two calls to 911 that night.

Brown said the female officer walked up to the driver's side of her car and asked for her license, but she said she was on her cellphone talking to a dispatcher and initially did not hear the officer.

Brown acknowledged she refused police requests to open her window and produce a license, but she claimed "the female officer [then] picked my lock some kind of way and opened the door."

Authorities gave a far different version of what happened when police approached Brown's car, saying in court that Brown's older daughter actually unlocked the Lexus door.

"The 8-year-old then climbed into the front and onto the defendant's lap and unlocked the driver's side door," Kent said in court. "The driver's side door opened all the way to a fence that was at Officer Morsi's back. As Officer Morsi directed the defendant out of the car, both the 8-year-old daughter and the defendant struck Officer Morsi in the head."

Once the door opened, Brown said she put the car in reverse and backed out of the alley and around a corner until she hit a curb and then a car parked in front of her house.

"The [open] car door knocked the officer to the ground, but she got up and started chasing after the car with her partner as I backed out the alley and in front of my house," said Brown.

But the prosecutor said Brown "then grabbed Officer Morsi's bulletproof vest, reversed the car, and drove backwards at a high rate of speed, dragging the victim at least 50 feet through the alley. Officer Morsi was dragged face first, then released and tumbled over and over as the defendant continued to drive the car in reverse nearly running Officer Morsi over."

Authorities said Morsi ended up covered in dirt, and suffered cuts and bruises to her legs and arms and a scratch on her face. She was treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

As for Brown, she said when her car came to a stop she was surrounded by other officers who had come to the first squad car's aid. She said officers threw her to the ground and kicked her and stepped on her head.

"All I could see is them kicking me with those black boots. I was wearing a skirt that night, but it got ripped off. I was sitting in the squad car with my panties on," Brown said. "I had a big knot on my arm and bruises on my face from them kicking me."

Wanda Cosey and Herbert McCall, Brown's neighbors, said they heard screaming coming from the alley, and then watched as the confrontation moved to the front of the house.

"I saw a female police officer running after the car with her gun out," McCall said. "I saw Mrs. Brown's daughter jump out the car and run to a neighbor's house crying and screaming. And I saw the female police officer, who was chasing the car out the alley, pepper-spray Mrs. Brown."

A police spokesman denied Brown was pepper-sprayed. After Brown was arrested, she was taken to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, but released soon after and ended up in jail for four days. Her car was impounded as evidence.

Cosey said she walked over to the car to get Brown's 1-year-old daughter, who was still in the backseat, but police ordered her to step away.

"An officer had his gun pointed at me and told me to get away from the car. He heard the baby crying and I asked if I could please get the baby and he said, 'No,' " said Cosey.

Brown dismisses most of the police version of events as a fabrication: Morsi "was never dragged and I never touched her nor did my daughter touch her. That part of the story is a complete lie."

Police spokesman Adam Collins, asked to respond to Brown's claims that police lied about her, sent an email restating the police version of events.

Brown has retained attorney Roger Brown (no relation). Tim Hearst, a legal adviser working with her attorney, said they will request video from a police camera mounted on a light pole at the corner of 83rd Street and Kerfoot Avenue.

"We have already subpoenaed the 911 tapes and will review any video footage that may have been captured by the camera, which if nothing else, should have captured everything that took place in the alley," Hearst said.

Brown said she is confident she will beat the charges, but she is worried about the effect of the incident on her children. They stayed with relatives while Brown was in jail, but her older daughter is still traumatized from the incident, Brown said.

"She keeps asking me am I going to jail," Brown said. "And I tell her, 'No, mommy isn't going anywhere."

DNAinfo.com Chicago Reporter/Producer Erin Meyer contributed to this article.