Hayward Leslie Brown was called a mad-dog killer, accused of being a stickup kid, characterized as a Robin Hood, and described as a political victim of alleged police fascism – a symbol of what some police were capable of doing. Some saw him as a criminal, others as a victim.
Born in 1954 in Detroit to a father who worked at the Ford Rouge Plant and a mother who was described as hardworking, Brown fell prey to the streets. By the time he was 18, he had been arrested 14 times. Once he became an adult in 1972, he was arrested twice more. In June of that year, he was arrested for armed robbery and in September for carrying a concealed weapon.
Brown later admitted that he robbed drug houses in the early 1970s. Brown stated, “Yeah, I did it. We kept the money and we flushed the stuff.” Brown’s family argued Brown was simply trying to harass and rid the community of drug dealers. The Highland Park Police agreed that Brown, who at one time attended Highland Park Community College, did harass drug dealers. The police alleged his motive was not heroic, rather Brown did the robberies to obtain quick money and drugs that was resold for profit.
On December 4, 1972, tragedy occurred. On that day, Brown was in a Volkswagen with his cousin, Vietnam War veteran, John Boyd and Mark Bethune on the city’s west side. They were planning to rob a heroin drug dealer when Detroit police officers either tried to pull them over or forced them off the road. The team of four police officers was in an unmarked car and was a part of Detroit’s notorious STRESS (Stop The Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets) unit. This plainclothes unit often acted as decoys to lure muggers into action. STRESS had the reputation of violently violating blacks' civil rights.
STRESS claimed they tried to pull over Bethune, Boyd, and Brown and the trio responded by firing on them. The officers later admitted they had no reason to pull the three over. Brown claimed the officers ran them off the road, and at the time, they did not know they were police officers. According to the police officers, Bethune shot first, but Brown claimed the police fired first. In any event, gun fire was exchanged, and the four police officers were wounded. Bethune, Boyd, and Brown managed to escape and an 86-day manhunt for them ensued. The manhunt was described as intense and highly emotional. It received widespread media attention.
During this manhunt, the Detroit Police Department was accused of violating the civil rights of innocent people. In the middle of December, the family members of Bethune, Boyd, and Brown filed a lawsuit against the Detroit Police Department to prevent the police from harassing them. Brown’s mother at one point even showed the Detroit Police Department how to get into her house if she was not at home to keep them from continuing to break down her door. Four years later, in 1976, city attorneys admitted there had been illegal behavior on the part of the police department and authorized the city to pay $85,000 to 15 people who sued the city after their homes were illegally searched.
On December 27, 1972, two other STRESS officers were staking out a location where they suspected Bethune, Boyd, and Brown were hiding. They eventually spotted the three men and another shootout occurred. This time, officer Robert Bradford was killed, and his partner, Robert Dooley, was left shot, crawling on the street, pleading for his life. Again, the trio escaped.
On January 12, 1973, the three firebombed a Planned Parenthood clinic near Wayne State University. It was suggested they firebombed the clinic as a distraction from their real intent – to rob the bank located near the clinic. As the trio tried to escape, they again fired on police officers. Brown was captured, but Bethune and Boyd escaped to Atlanta. Brown, while in custody of police, confessed to the firebombing.
The next month while in Atlanta, Bethune and Boyd were involved in another shoot-out with police. A police officer went to question a man who was acting suspiciously. Before he could question him, the man pulled out a sawed-off carbine and the officer drew his revolver and shot and killed the suspect. The officer heard shots being fired and turned to see another man with a pistol. He shot and killed the second man. One was Boyd and the other man was Boyd’s half-brother Owen Winfield. Somehow Bethune was wounded by Atlanta police before being trapped on a rooftop. He was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head.
Brown was later charged with assaulting the police officers, with murder of a police officer, and federally with the firebombing of the clinic. Famous powerhouse lawyer Kenneth V. Cockrel successfully defended him by putting STRESS on trial for their atrocities against the black community. Brown testified that on December 4, 1972, he believed STRESS was going to kill him on that day (based on their past acts). Brown was acquitted by a jury of all state charges but was found guilty of the federal firebomb charges in 1975 and sentenced to eight years. He was released from federal prison in 1977 after his guilty verdict was overturned on an appeal. The court found that his confession to police concerning the January 12, 1973, firebombing was not free, rational, and voluntary because of Brown's overwhelming fear that he would be beaten by police. The court noted Brown's arrest was violent. Officers admitted they grabbed him by the neck, kicked his legs out from under him, and flung him to the sidewalk where he landed on his face.
Once on the sidewalk, three or four officers subdued the kicking and thrashing suspect before handcuffing him. During the struggle he was hit with a closed fist by an officer and "nudged" in the back of the head with the butt of a shotgun. While seated in the back of a patrol car between two police officers, Brown began to cry and sobbed. At one point it is alleged Brown stated, "My name is Hayward Brown and I'll tell you everything you want to know." While nervous he shouted, "Don't let them beat me Sarge." The Sergeant replied, "No one is going to hit you." It was at that time an officer did hit Brown. When the officer was questioned as to why he hit Brown, he said because Brown was screaming, and he wanted to shut him up. Brown continued to yell, "Don't beat me, don't beat me."
Once at the police station, it was noted that Brown had been severely beaten. Doctors at the county jail treated Brown for his injuries. (For more details see United States of America, Plaintiff-appellee, v. Hayward Leslie Brown, Defendant-appellant, 557 F.2d 541 (6th Cir. 1977))
Brown became a folk hero to some. His face appeared on t-shirts along with a slogan advocating vigilante actions in the black community to drive out drug dealers if the police would not. Brown often appeared at rallies against STRESS.
In 1980, he was arrested for an armed robbery. The police claimed he gave them an alias and they did not know who he was initially. While in jail, they found him hanging in an apparent suicide attempt. They rushed him to the hospital, and it was there he was identified by his fingerprints. Police claimed Brown stated he was tired of being arrested as the reason for his attempted suicide. Brown claimed the police tried to kill him.
It was not until December 1981, that Brown was finally convicted and sentenced to 2 ½ to four years in prison for possession of heroin.
On June 13, 1984, Brown was murdered. He and another man attempted to rob a man (who was a suspected drug dealer) of his jewelry. When the other unknown robber pulled a gun on the intended victim, the victim grabbed Brown and used him as a shield. The suspect shot both Brown and the victim before he fled. Brown was found dead in a pool of blood with a handgun by his side. The victim suffered multiple gunshot wounds but survived.
Hayward Brown's Funeral