Hakeem Brown wooed Vallejo voters for a spot on the City Council in 2018. He’s now asking they extend that trust as he makes a run for the mayor’s seat. But just three weeks before the Nov. 3 election, a lengthy investigative report published by Open Vallejo shines a harsh light on Brown’s less-than-righteous past. Allegations are that Brown, now 45, was far from just a troubled young man who got caught up with the law, as he has publicly portrayed himself.
The reporting — Open Vallejo claims they drew on more than 1,500 pages of court and law enforcement records, and extensive interviews — instead portrays a man with an apparent decades-long pattern of brutal violence against women.
What Open Vallejo describes, and what the San Francisco Chronicle has since backed up with its own reporting, is a man who allegedly controlled, harassed, stalked and assaulted women, two of whom he’d married and who carried his children. In one of the most damning claims, his first wife claims she miscarried after Brown struck her repeatedly in the abdomen.
In an open letter on his campaign site, Brown again on Thursday disputed much of what Open Vallejo reported, though he admits to one 2002 incident that involved three charges, including “corporal injury on a spouse,” for which he served four years in prison. In a defensive statement issued on Facebook and his campaign site Sunday, two days before the article was published, he referred to the assault as a “scuffle with a domestic partner.”
That spouse was Joanna Cullom, who said she was pregnant at the time.
His second wife, Chana Brown, died just this year at the age of 35 — another man she had dated has been charged with her murder. The child she and Brown shared is now in Brown’s full legal custody. In court documents obtained by Open Vallejo, Chana Brown depicts horrific scenes where he allegedly assaulted her several times a week, while pregnant with their son and while she held him after he was born. Yolo County Deputy Sam Machado testified to seeing her with deep bruises, a swollen cheek and a cut on her earlobe when he responded to a 911 call made by her mother in April 2012.
Open Vallejo asserts that according to court documents:
“Hakeem Brown has been accused of domestic violence or related crimes in at least 9 different incidents, including 5 cases that resulted in criminal charges, of which he was convicted in three.”
The councilmember has been public about aspects of his past, and those admissions resonated with a lot of voters. He sold himself as a man who had overcome struggle, who had worked to move beyond his mistakes and while there may be some truth to that, it’s now apparent he wasn’t honest about the breadth of his offenses. His response to allegations has been defiant and defensive, accusing Open Vallejo of taking part in a political smear campaign.
It’s an odd stance to take when what’s been reported is largely public record and the article in question has more hyperlinks than a Wikipedia page.
Voices of Vallejo caught on to Brown’s questionable nature prior to publishing their November election endorsements. There, they expressed “disappointment” in not being able to prop up the candidate based on numerous issues out in open public forum. Interestingly, they also alluded to an undisclosed reason that would “doubtless be on display following the release” of their endorsement. It appears Voices of Vallejo was clued into the coming storm that would reveal Brown’s violent history.
Brown had also caught wind of the story before it was published and tried to get ahead of the scandal with a statement issued Sunday on Facebook that read in part:
“This weekend it came to my attention that a political group supporting one of my campaign opponents was preparing to undertake a smear campaign against me based on lies, distortions and mistruths.
"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.”
A copy of the letter Brown’s attorneys issued to Open Vallejo was posted on the candidate’s campaign site.
Comments quickly flooded in with support for the councilman, but that was still two days before the Open Vallejo piece ran. Responses since have been a mixed bag — while some condemn his alleged actions, others stand staunchly by his side.
As of now, a “Zumba Fundraiser to elect Hakeem Brown for Vallejo Mayor 2020” scheduled for Saturday is still being promoted on icause.com.
It’s worth noting that this election year has already drawn historically high early voter turnout, meaning that many Vallejoans may have cast their votes before they were made aware of Brown’s past convictions for domestic violence. Assistant Registrar of Voters John Gardner told the Times Herald that as of Wednesday evening, more than 29,000 Solano County voters had already returned their mail-in ballots.
It’s no secret the city has been under a dark cloud for decades now, including 2008 bankruptcy and several scandals involving the Vallejo Police Department — the sudden scrutiny around Brown adds another sad chapter.
If you or anyone you know needs help with a domestic violence problem, the National Domestic Violence Hotline offers trained advocates to give free and confidential support and referrals in more than 200 languages. They can be reached by either visiting the website linked above or by called 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.