A father found hanged in a Sacramento park. Why Willie Brown Jr.’s death deserves a closer look

Olivia Monahan
·5 min read

The sky was clear when the sun rose in the early morning hours of Oct. 19. Everything seemed as it should be. But an hour into the day, Willie Brown Jr. was found hanging from a basketball rim at Countryside Park off of Meadowhaven road.

Willie, a 38-year-old father of four, spent eight days on breathing machines fighting for his life. On Monday, surrounded by family, friends, and a procession of medical professionals paying their respects – Willie was taken off of life support.

If Willie Brown Jr., killed himself – why would he publicly hang himself from a basketball rim? Why would a Black man choose a method of suicide that has hundreds of years of ancestral trauma attached to it? And if you were in such dire straits that you were choosing to harm yourself in such a way – why would no one in your family, your circle of friends, or your significant other have any indication of it beforehand?

Willie’s family is now left with unanswered questions. In a Sacramento Bee exclusive, this story is part one of a series in conjunction with the family of Willie Brown Jr., in hopes that those questions can find answers.

What happened to Willie Brown?

Willie Brown Jr. was an energetic man who worked long hours, and wished he had more time to see his family. He was goofy and light-hearted, and was always willing to sit around and play games with the kids. He was a former athlete, who ran track with his brother, and was ready to throw a football around at a moment’s notice. He was trying to find time to take a vacation so he could see some of the family he hadn’t seen in a while. His family remembers him as someone with a big heart and a big smile.

He was found hanging from a basketball rim located on the courts of Countryside Park in South Sacramento by an unnamed witness at 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 19..

After the report from the witness, Sac Metro Fire Department Station 51 responders arrived on scene, as the station is less than two blocks from the park. The responders who cut Willie down from the rim performed measures to keep him breathing and he was transported to the hospital.



Opinion

Beyond that the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department has been unable, or unwilling to provide any major pieces of information; to the public, to the media, or to the family. The incident was immediately ruled a suicide without any investigation. Both the family and the community surrounding them feel the circumstances around Willie’s death is highly suspicious.

Why was Willie Brown’s death immediately ruled a suicide?

In a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, over a 10-year span there was a 52% increase in suicide by hanging. Even with that increase, the statistics show that hanging makes up only 3.1% of reported suicides overall. Yet placing a sharper focus on the statistic; studies show that Black men are 60% less likely to kill themselves than non-Black men, and that hanging is not to the preferred method.

After a summer of civil unrest, why would the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department be so willing to rule Willie Brown’s death a suicide, especially without any attempt at a thorough investigation?

“I asked him (the detectivel) to describe the scene to me, and he stated that he wasn’t there at the time, but the responding officers taped off the area,” said Willie Brown Sr.. “They said they found the cell phone and the knife at the scene, and then placed the items in Willie’s vehicle. He didn’t mention anything about finding a bucket, a ladder or anything else that would have been used to commit the act. (He) then stated that the officers cleaned up the crime scene and took down the crime scene tape.” said Willie Brown Sr.

With no form of assistance, such as a ladder, step stool, or other type of lift, it would be extremely difficult for one person to get up to the top of a 10-foot regulation hoop. Yet according to Willie’s father, who has been speaking directly with The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, there was no mention of anything found on site other than a few of Willie’s personal belongings.

The case is now reopened.

The answers, or rather lack thereof, from the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department left Willie’s family with even more questions. Why would they not have bagged the phone for evidence? If nothing was found on scene that would have assisted Willie in getting to the top of the rim, what made them so certain it was a suicide?

“Something just doesn’t add up,” said Willie’s mother, Sandra Brown, when she spoke at his vigil, “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.”

The Brown family does not believe the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department has handled this case correctly, and they are now requesting a full investigation by the FBI Hate Crimes Unit into the death of Willie Brown Jr. You can contact the Sacramento FBI , (916) 746-7000. Dial #1, and then #2 and apply pressure to open the case. You can also file a complaint and request an investigation by visiting https://www.fbi.gov/tips.

This is a developing story, with new information happening daily. The Sacramento Bee will be sitting down one on one with the Brown family for an in-depth conversation to discuss who Willie was, what they know thus far, and how the community can get involved for the next part of our series. We will continue to investigate further as more information comes to light.