Mayor London Breed on Wednesday defended her letter to the governor urging that he free her imprisoned brother in the face of strong criticism from the victim’s family that her intervention smacks of abuse of power.
“It’s sadly been twisted in an unfortunate way,” the mayor said in her first public remarks addressing NBC Bay Area’s story about her letter in October urging outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown to free her brother, Napoleon Brown, who is serving a four-decade sentence for killing Lenties White in 2000.
In 2005, a San Francisco jury found that Brown pushed White, a 25-year-old mother of two, out of a car into Golden Gate Bridge traffic while they were fleeing a robbery.
In writing the governor, Breed asked that Brown be released 15 years before he is up for parole, saying his freedom is best for Brown and society, and he would be able to get better addiction treatment on the outside.
But she acknowledged Wednesday that her now exposed plea to commute his sentence may have backfired.
“Unfortunately, I am in a situation where I am mayor,” Breed said. “It will probably have the reverse impact of what I was hoping that it would possibly do, which is get my brother a reasonable sentence and get him into treatment -- and get him the support that he needs.”
Breed contends her brother has been treated unfairly by the justice system, like many other African-American men. She stressed that because of the state’s Three Strikes law, Brown is serving twice the normal term for manslaughter and other lesser crimes. Last year, however, he was caught with heroin at Solano State Prison and recently had two years tacked on to his term.
Her brother’s case, she said, reflects her overall view that the system needs to be reformed to allow for rehabilitation.
“This is what I care about,” she said. “This is why I became a public servant.”
Breed said she has written letters on her brother's behalf before, but now being mayor complicated her decision process.
“When I was asked to write another letter, I was of course concerned -- that, you know, as mayor, this could backfire,” she said. “It could have the reverse impact. And I knew the letter would be public. So I wasn’t necessarily trying to hide anything, but I was concerned.”
While she made no mention of the victim or her family in her letter to the governor, Breed went out of her way Wednesday to express her sympathies.
“My thoughts go out to the family of Lenties White,” Breed said outside a gathering to rename a revamped public housing project. “I know the family, I’m very close with them. I know that, unfortunately, this situation has sadly opened up wounds. It’s a tragic situation.”
But Sandra McNeil, White’s mother, said the mayor should have gone to her about the letter before now. She said the mayor left out key facts in her letter, including Brown’s arrest for heroin possession last year in prison, and that the mayor told a jury her brother was sleeping on the couch at the time of White’s death. In White’s dying words, however, she implicated Brown to officers at the scene.
“I feel disrespected,” McNeil said about the mayor not reaching out to tell her in advance she planned to send a letter to the governor. “Just going behind my back and just writing a letter, something like that letter right there, that’s not justice for me."