Although he had a degree in engineering, Vernell Brown Jr. decided to join the New Orleans Police Department 17 years ago. At his funeral Saturday, Raven Turner recalled what led to her father’s decision.
A thief had broken into their home near the holidays and made off with the family’s Christmas gifts, she said.
“From that day forward, he promised to protect anyone and everyone who had any issues,” Turner said.
Hundreds of friends, family members and colleagues gathered Saturday morning at Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church in New Orleans East to pay their last respects to Brown.
“There really are no words to describe the tragic loss that we’re all suffering,” said NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison, who described the officer as “always calm, steady, cool.”
Brown, who was considered an expert in traffic fatality reconstructions for both civil and criminal court cases, was struck by a car in the early morning hours of July 12 while investigating a vehicle fire on the Pontchartrain Expressway.
After getting out on the passenger side of a marked NOPD vehicle, Brown was hit by a Ford Mustang about 5:40 a.m. as he walked along the road’s shoulder, near the guardrail, according to police accounts of the incident.
An initial investigation showed that the Mustang likely had collided with another car, a Toyota Scion, before leaving the road and hitting Brown. Both drivers suffered minor injuries and remained on the scene to be interviewed by investigators.
The crash left Brown, 47, critically injured, and he died five days later.
The investigation into the July 12 incident is ongoing, and no charges have been filed.
Brown’s death came just weeks after the June 20 killing of Daryle Holloway, the NOPD officer who was fatally shot while he drove an arrested man, Travis Boys, to Central Lockup.
Brown’s cousin, Marilyn Bellock, remembered him Saturday as his mother’s favorite son, who worked long hours as an officer but always made a point of attending family gatherings and cookouts, even if all he had time to do was to say a few quick hellos and grab a plate of food for the road.
Brown graduated in 1989 from Grambling State University, where he played snare drum in the marching band, friends and relatives recalled.
He joined the NOPD in 1998. After finishing the police academy, he was assigned to the 2nd District and spent most of his career in the Traffic Division.
His most recent assignment was to the 6th District, where, Cmdr. Ronnie Stevens said, Brown “always wanted to lend a helping hand, and he always did it with a big smile.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu offered condolences to Brown’s family, naming many individually.
He noted that Brown’s death came on “the heels of so much other tragedy” for the city’s law enforcement community, including Holloway’s slaying as well as the death of James Bennett Jr., a 45-year-old Housing Authority of New Orleans police officer who was killed in May while patrolling a public housing complex in Central City.
“This is very dark season for our city and our country,” said Landrieu, who described Brown as “the kind of guy who would always take care of business.”
“All of the rookies learned a lot from Vernell,” he added.
After the funeral, there was a procession across the city to Lake Lawn Cemetery, where Brown was buried.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.