London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco, has asked California governor Jerry Brown to commute the sentence of her brother, Napoleon Brown. Brown is serving a 44 year sentence after being convicted of manslaughter. Mayor Breed says that her brother, who has already served twenty years in prison, deserves a shot at redemption and a second chance at life on the outside. But the family of the victim says that Mayor Breed’s letter has opened old wounds and raises questions about whether Mayor Breed is abusing her power.
Here’s what you need to know about Napoleon Brown:
1. London Breed Says Her Brother Felt ‘Hopeless’ from an Early Age & Turned to Drugs as an Escape
London Breed has often spoken publicly about her tough upbringing, describing a childhood spent in poverty in the Western Addition public housing projects. Her sister died of a drug overdose and her older brother, Napoleon, turned to drugs at an early age. In her letter to Governor Brown, Mayor Breed asked him to consider commuting her brother’s prison term and urged him to consider all the troubles her brother had faced as a young man. She wrote, “Napoleon struggled early on with a sense of hopelessness. And like many others, he developed a bad drug problem at an early age. His drug addiction led to a young life of crime.”
Mayor Breed has often stressed that her brother’s problems are not unique. In a city like San Francisco, with major income inequality, she says there’s a constant danger that some people will slip between the cracks. That includes people who serve time in prison. She issued a statement this week saying, “Too many people, particularly young black men like my brother was when he was convicted, are not given an opportunity to become contributing members of society after they have served time in prison.”
2. Napoleon Brown Was Convicted of Manslaughter After He Pushed a Woman to Her Death from a Getaway Car
Back in June 2000, Napoleon Brown was one of several people who were involved in robbing a Johnny Rockets restaurant on Chestnut Street in San Francisco. What happened next is not completely clear. The thieves got into a getaway car, which may or may not have been driven by a young woman named Lenties White. White’s family says that there is absolutely no way she would have been driving a getaway car, since she was an anxious, panicky person who would never have dared get involved in a risky operation.
In any case, White was in the getaway car — a white Escort which belonged to her — while it was crossing the Golden Gate bridge on the night of the robbery. Napoleon Brown eventually pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and said that he had pushed White out of the moving car and into incoming traffic. She was struck by a car and died of the injuries in the emergency room that night. White, 25, was a mother of two who was studying to become a house painter and working nights as a concessionaire.
3. Napoleon Brown Was Later Convicted of Heroin Possession While in Prison
Brown had a conviction for a prior robbery on his record already in 2000, when he was arrested for the Johnny Rockets robbery and his involvement in the death of Lenties White. Prosecutors at the time originally charged him with White’s murder, but a judge overturned that conviction for technical reasons. Brown then agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 42 years in prison.
Last year, Brown was convicted on an additional drug charge — he was found with heroin while in prison. That added another to years to his sentence. He will now be eligible for parole in the year 2032.
Mayor Breed, her mother, and Brown have all written to California governor Jerry Brown asking for leniency in the case. Mayor Breed has argued that prison is not the right place for her brother to redeem himself and that he will have a much better chance at turning over a new leaf out of prison. In a statement this week, the mayor said, “My family and our community is ready and willing to help support my brother, and we will take this responsibility seriously if his sentence is commuted. I believe he will better serve society, the community, his family, and his children outside of prison. Ultimately this determination is up to the Governor and the courts, but I join my family in making this request.”
4. Napoleon Brown Says He Wants to Re-establish a Relationship With His Children
Brown is 46 years old now and has said that he wants to reconnect with his children after spending 18 years in prison. His family — including the mayor — have also argued that he would be of more use to society and to his children if he were released from jail.
“I am very sorry for all the people I hurt with my crimes 18 years ago,” Napoleon Brown wrote in his letter to the governor “I still take full and complete responsibility for all my actions,” he added, asking for the opportunity to re-establish a relationship with his children.
The mayor’s statement said, “My family and our community is ready and willing to help support my brother, and we will take this responsibility seriously if his sentence is commuted. I believe he will better serve society, the community, his family, and his children outside of prison. Ultimately this determination is up to the Governor and the courts, but I join my family in making this request.”
5. The Family of Lenties White Says Mayor Breed Is Taking Advantage of Her Political Position
Sandra McNeil is the mother of Lenties White, the woman that Napoleon Brown pushed to her death in 2000. McNeil says that hearing about Mayor Breed’s letter to the governor re-opened old wounds: “I thought it was done and over,” she said, “Justice was served and that was the end of it — I never knew there was going to be another beginning of it.”
McNeil says that the mayor is taking advantage of her position to try and help out her family members. “She’s the mayor, so she’s got a little power, so she thinks she can get her brother out,” McNeil told NBC. She added that London Breed herself had tried to provide an alibi for Napoleon Brown, back in 2000; the now-mayor told the court that her brother had been sleeping on her grandmother’s couch at the time when White was pushed to her death.
The mayor has stressed that her brother has already served almost 20 years in prison for his crimes. “I do believe that people need to face consequences when they have broken the law, but I also believe that we should allow for the rehabilitation and re-entry of people into society after they have served an amount of time that reflects the crimes committed,” she said in a statement.