It has been a tumultuous year for Vallejo, marked by a high-profile police killing of a Latino man, accusations of rampant police misconduct and widespread protests. So it was with a measure of optimism that some Vallejo voters greeted Hakeem Brown, a candidate for the city's mayor.
A city councilman since 2018, Brown's site says he is "leading the fight to reform the Police Department, implement civilian oversight, and hold bad police officers accountable." His message resonated, as he became the frontrunner to replace current Mayor Bob Sampayan.
But a recent series of disturbing allegations, surfaced first through 1,500 pages of court documents by local news site Open Vallejo, has thrown the race into chaos with a week to go.
Records obtained by Open Vallejo show Brown was convicted of three domestic violence-related charges, two of them felonies, and faced even more charges that did not result in convictions. The charges span 20 years and came from five different women.
Although Brown made no secret of serving jail time in the past, the allegations go far beyond what he's generally characterized as mistakes in his "troubled youth."
Joanna Cullom told the San Francisco Chronicle she was 17 and Brown was 24 when they met and began dating. After she graduated high school, they married. According to Cullom, the abuse began early in the relationship and didn't relent. One night in December 2000, she escaped to Santa Barbara to evade Brown, who she says then followed her there. According to Santa Barbara County Superior Court documents obtained by The Chronicle, Brown punched her repeatedly and ended up pleading guilty to felony domestic violence, for which he served 60 days in the county jail.
Cullom said she was pregnant, but alleged she lost the baby because of the physical abuse. "It was a direct reflection of his abuse," she told Open Vallejo.
In 2012, a Yolo County deputy who showed up at the Brown home for a welfare check said he discovered Brown's new wife Chana Brown with bruises on her face. In a written statement from the arresting officer, the abuse was described as "domestic violence bordering on torture."
"She appeared to be worn down. Just that, almost as if she was just a shell, not even like anybody there," the deputy said in later court testimony. "The best way I can describe it [is] like an abused dog that just cowers all the time."
Brown denies the severity of the abuse allegations, posting an official statement on his Facebook page on Oct. 11. The statement accuses an unnamed "political group supporting one of my campaign opponents" of a "smear campaign."
"My attorney and I have taken decisive action to warn Open Vallejo that untruthful attacks on my character will result in legal action based on slander and libel," Brown wrote. "... I have made no secret of my tough journey to leadership and success, which includes a troubled youth where I made numerous mistakes. As a young man 20 years ago, I was arrested not once, but several times — for drugs, possession of a firearm, and a scuffle with a domestic partner."
The denial has done little to help Brown, however, who has lost a number of key endorsements since the story broke. The Solano County Democratic Central Committee, Vallejo Chamber of Commerce and Napa Solano Central Labor Council, among others, have pulled endorsements in recent days.
"Not only have I been the brunt of his anger recently but other people have been the brunt of his anger," Sampayan told KPIX last week. "And his anger is extremely high and he's very hair-triggered."
Due to historic early voting, however, it's possible some people sent in their ballots in early October before the controversy hit the news. If Brown loses the mayoral bid, he still has two years remaining as a city councilman. There is currently a campaign to recall Brown, regardless of his status as city councilman or mayor, initiated by a local activist.
Signatures from 15% of Vallejo's registered voters are needed in order to put the recall on the ballot. That amounts to about 10,000 signatures.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, there is help available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day on their website or by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
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