As a gang of Milwaukee police officers surrounded Sterling Brown, forced him face first into the pavement and fired a Taser into his back, he thought about everything he had to live for.
“I gave in so they didn’t pull out their guns,” he said.
Five months after the incident in a Walgreens parking lot in the middle of the night, the Milwaukee Bucks rookie is still trying to figure out why it all went down the way it did.
“I don’t see what I could have done different,” he said.
This week, Brown is under a spotlight he didn’t ask for after the Milwaukee Police Department released a body camera video of officers arresting and tasing him over a parking violation in January. In the video, Brown remains calm and polite as the police become progressively more confrontational.
Brown sat down with a Journal Sentinel reporter in his agent’s Chicago office Friday — one of only two interviews he plans to do about the incident. He wants to use the attention prompted by the video, he said, to fight for positive change.
The Milwaukee Police Department released the full 30 minute bodycam video that shows Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown being tased. Milwaukee Police Department
As a young African-American man, the way he was mistreated by police wasn’t unusual, Brown said.
“It’s common. It happens literally every single day in our community.”
Son of a police officer
Brown grew up in Maywood, Ill., not far across the state line from Wisconsin. His father served as a police officer there.
The belief that all cops were like his dad didn’t last long. By the time he and his friends were preteens, they had started learning from experience and from history about the way African-American boys and young men are viewed by law enforcement.
“It’s tough being a kid whose father is a police officer,” he said. “Police officers are not role models. They’re not liked. It’s not an ideal situation to be in.”
Before moving to Milwaukee, Brown had minor interactions with police — parking tickets, speeding tickets being stopped on the street.
“I’ve had encounters with cops being polite and far on the other end. I don’t know if they had a bad day or what it was, but I’ve experienced it all,” he said. “But it never escalated like this did.”
‘I was just being smart’
When Brown first walked out of the Walgreens about 2 a.m. Jan. 26 and saw police officer Joseph Grams, he expected to get a parking ticket with a hefty fine for parking across two handicap spaces. He hoped Grams would give him one and let him go home. Brown had a friend with him and a game the next day.
But Grams was antagonistic, immediately telling Brown to back up and reaching toward him when he didn’t do it soon enough.
“He had no reason to touch me. We could’ve resolved anything just verbally. We’re two grown men. We could’ve resolved anything by just talking about it,” Brown said.
Then Grams called for more officers.
Brown was determined to stand his ground, but he didn’t want to provoke violence.
“I was just being smart. I just wanted to get out of the situation and get home,” he said.
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‘It came out of nowhere’
Grams’ call for backup resulted in half a dozen police cars screaming into the parking lot, red and blue lights flashing.
At that point, the tension increased, with police standing in a circle around Brown, who was not aggressive. Sgt. Sean A. Mahnke yelled at Brown to take his hands out of his pockets.
Brown, who had taken his hands in and out of his pockets several times before that, replied: “Hold on. I’ve got stuff in my hands.”
The next thing he knew, he was on the ground, with an officer’s knee in his neck. Others threw knees and elbows trying to get him to keep still. Brown says his hands were already behind his back when Mahnke yelled: “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
Officer Bojan Samardzic followed the command, firing the Taser into Brown’s back.
“It was shocking because it came out of nowhere,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”
Thankful to be alive
Police took Brown to St. Francis Hospital, where he was medically cleared but not given pain medication.
He was taken to the Milwaukee County Jail, where he waited to be booked with other men who had been arrested that night. No one read him his rights, Brown said, and he wasn’t allowed to call anyone.