As Jordan Brown puts it, he didn’t want to hurt the man, just teach him a lesson. Teach him that he shouldn’t be passing out drunk in strange apartments. What if Brown’s girlfriend and young daughter had come home first?
When the intruder tried to run, Brown gave him “a couple knuckles,” as he puts it. Enough to send the message — and send the man to the Johns Hopkins Hospital for a few days. Only Brown didn’t count on his lesson landing him before a judge and jury one year later, staring down a felony assault charge with as much as 25 years in prison.
“It’s outrageous,” the 23-year-old Baltimore man said. “Someone broke into my home and I was being charged?”
His trial earlier this month tested the limits of Maryland’s self-defense laws. How far can a man go when confronting an intruder in his home?
Two years ago, Howard County State’s Attorney Rich Gibson decided not to charge a Woodbine homeowner who shot and killed a drunken man at his door. The stranger had come to the wrong house, knocking, ringing the doorbell, yelling, and, eventually, threatening. The man pushed his way in, believing friends locked him out as a prank.
Years earlier, the office of then-State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy decided not to prosecute a Hopkins student who confronted an unarmed intruder behind his house in Baltimore and fatally cut the man. State law allows reasonable nondeadly force to protect one’s property, and reasonable deadly force to protect one’s home.
Brown acknowledges he’s had run-ins with police. Next month, he’s scheduled for trial on drug and gun charges.
Unlike with the Woodbine homeowner and Hopkins student, prosecutors decided to take him to trial for beating an intruder in his apartment.
“Street justice is no justice,” Assistant State’s Attorney James Hammond told the jury. “There is absolutely zero justification for putting a person in the hospital when they pose no threat to you whatsoever.”
It all began for Brown when he came home one evening last summer to the apartment he shared with his girlfriend in Northeast Baltimore. When he walked in, he saw the coffee table pushed out from the living room window. He noticed a chair had been knocked over.
Brown froze when he looked in his bedroom and saw a strange man sprawled across the bed. Brown stepped closer. The man was out cold; Brown smelled booze.
He FaceTimed his girlfriend. Brown hadn’t met her father, so he turned his cellphone toward the middle-aged man on their bed.
“Is that your dad?”
“Babe, you sure that isn’t your dad?”
The man, who wasn’t the father of Brown’s girlfriend, could not be reached for this article.
In an interview later, Brown said he felt a little scared, but mostly angry. He worried what could have happened if the stranger woke to Brown’s girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter coming in the apartment. Brown shook the man awake, demanding answers. Who are you? What are you doing here?
Then, the fight broke out. Prosecutors and defense attorneys argued about the next few moments during Brown’s trial Aug. 19 in Baltimore Circuit Court.
“The defendant beat him bloody,” said Hammond, the prosecutor. “Put his head through the closet door.”
“When this guy woke up, he woke up erratic ... super drunk,” said Brandon Taylor, the defense attorney. “The first thing he did was try to run toward Mr. Brown.”
Brown would tell police that he “beat his ass,” punching and kicking the man, the officer wrote in charging documents. When the struggle was over, the man rested on the floor against a wall, his face cut and a knot swelling above his eye. Outside the room, Brown called 911.
He said he waited and called multiple times before Officer Jeffrey Cline arrived at the apartment. The officer told the jury that he saw blood all over, a busted wall and the broken closet door. The beaten man sat against a wall. He was too drunk to explain himself, Cline told the jury.
“His answers weren’t really coherent,” the officer said.
Paramedics treated the man in Brown’s bedroom — frustrating Brown further: “I wanted him out!” — then drove the man to Hopkins. He was treated there for three days. The cuts near his eye required three stitches. Doctors determined he had lost consciousness and suffered bleeding of his brain, prosecutors said.
Brown figured it was over. That is, until he turned himself in on unrelated traffic charges of running from the police and discovered an assault case against him.
His trial concluded in a single afternoon. The victim didn’t show. When prosecutors finished their case, which consisted only of the officer’s testimony, the defense attorney urged the judge to throw out the charges. Before the prosecutor could respond, Circuit Judge Jennifer Schiffer cut off arguments.
“I’m going to call counsel back into my chambers,” she said, sternly.
When they returned to the courtroom, Schiffer said she was granting Taylor’s request for a judgment of acquittal and dismissing the case.
“Given the fact that Mr. Brown has encountered a burglar in his house, I am convinced that Mr. Brown was entitled to use deadly force,” she said.
Taylor said prosecutors should never have taken Brown to trial.
“With all the craziness and violence going on in this city, with a backlog of thousands of cases in Circuit Court waiting to go to trial,” he said, “prosecuting someone for coming home and having to fight off a burglar is what they chose to waste their time and resources on.”
Zy Richardson, spokeswoman for the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office, argued otherwise.
“The unarmed victim entered the wrong apartment and attempted to leave once he realized his error. Despite posing no threat, he was then brutally beaten by the defendant,” she said. “We respectfully disagree with the judge’s decision in this case.”
Meanwhile, police charged the drunk man with burglary for breaking into Brown’s home, but prosecutors dropped that case. That’s fine with Brown. He’s satisfied with the conclusion, if somewhat regretful about the extent of the injuries he caused in beating the man.
“I didn’t want him to get arrested,” Brown said. “I felt like that was my justice.”