San Diego Eric Abrams has been called many things. In December 1991, Parade magazine named him "National High School Football Player of the Year." In November 1994, Stanford coach Bill Walsh said Abrams was his "adorable little place-kicker." Last week a Santa Clara County Municipal Court judge called Eric Abrams "a danger to public safety and to the community."
Kim Brown, who met Abrams only briefly, is more to the point. She calls him "cunning."
It's difficult to imagine two more different individuals. Brown is a 37-year-old single mother of two sons who works as a teacher's assistant in the Bayview district south of downtown San Francisco, where she's lived most of her life. Abrams, 24, the son of a doctor and a lawyer, was raised in University City and attended La Jolla Country Day School, where he received national attention as a place-kicker. Dozens of stories about his "promising future" appeared in the Union-Tribune and in sports sections across the country. He attended Stanford on a football scholarship, played under the (in)famous Bill Walsh, and studied psychology. But after he graduated in 1995, when many people wondered if he would make it to the nfl, Abrams was already on his way to encountering Kim Brown.
In March 1996, Abrams showed the world that he was passionate about more than just football. He pleaded no contest in Palo Alto Municipal Court to seven misdemeanor counts of what court records describe as "phone harassment." Abrams admitted that while posing as a Stanford football scout he had called seven teenage boys to persuade them to send him nude photos under the guise of recruiting them for athletic scholarships. Although Abrams's attorney described these calls as "pranks," the boys' mothers did not think Abrams was very funny. The court didn't either. Abrams was fined $200, sentenced to three years' probation, 100 hours of community service, and ordered to seek psychiatric treatment.
"Apparently this sort of thing is treatable," Abrams's attorney said.
Kim Brown doesn't agree.
On Tuesday, April 14, at 4:20 p.m. Brown was coming home from work when she saw her two sons, 11 and 13 years old, talking to a young white man in a white Buick rental car.
"Our neighborhood's predominately black, but we've got everything in it," Brown explains, "Asian, Hispanic. There are even some white people on our block. So the fact that he was white didn't make him stand out at first. It was the car. It looked a lot like an unmarked police car.
"So, as I drive up, he looks at me and he drives off. I asked my boys, 'What did he want with y'all?' And my oldest tells me that this man had told him to get in his car, that he wanted him to get in the car and write his name and address down on a piece of paper. I knew then that something strange was going on, and I was determined to find out what had happened. I told my boys to get in the car, and we followed him.
"I could see that he was getting ready to head downtown, and when he stopped at a light I pulled up beside him and rolled down my window and asked him what he was doing, talking to my sons. And he tells me he thought my sons were dealing drugs. He says he was the police, and he flashes this badge at me. I asked him, 'Tell me what they were doing that made you think that they were selling drugs.'
"That, you see, was his first big mistake. I know my sons, and I know how I have raised them, and I know my sons are not involved in drugs. Now, that may not be true for every mother, or even for every mother on our block. But I have worked hard at raising my two sons, at teaching them to do what's right, to go to school, to study, and I know them.
"So then he makes his second big mistake. In answer to my question, he says, 'Your sons are innocent and that's all you need to know.'
"And he said it real dismissive. Now, I don't like being talked down to. And I don't like anyone telling me what I need to know. Especially not someone who's just told me he thought my sons were dealing drugs. Abrams may have thought he had it all planned out. He may have thought, 'Well, black kids sell drugs; their mothers don't care; if I get caught I'll just use that line and everyone will believe me.'
"But he didn't count on me. If someone says they so much as think my sons are selling drugs, I'm gonna find out why. And when he answered me, telling me that all I needed to know was that my sons were innocent, I started to get angry.
"I said, 'I'm gonna need your name and badge number because I'm gonna find out what's going on here.' And he says, 'My name's Harry Thomson. They all know me at the station.' And he drives off.
"Now, I'm really determined to find out what's going on. I followed him."
Brown followed Abrams for several miles, on surface streets, on the freeway, "Never," she says, "driving recklessly or too fast. I had my two kids with me. I followed just close enough behind him so that he could see that I was following him. I could see him glancing back at me through his rearview mirror, and I just stared right back at him to let him know, 'Yes, I'm following you.' All the while I'm talking to my sons, asking them to tell me the truth, to tell me what happened. They swore to me they weren't doing anything. They were just walking down the street when he drove up. And I was thinking about that badge he showed me. I am a mother and have bought enough toys in my life to know what silver plastic looks like, and that badge just didn't look real."
When Abrams finally stopped in a white neighborhood, Brown parked beside him on the street.
"He rolls down his passenger window and says, 'Why are you following me? What do you want?' And I tell him I want to know why he was talking to my kids. He says, 'They were with known drug dealers. I was trying to get your sons to give me their names.' I ask, 'Who? Who are these known drug dealers? If they're known drug dealers, somebody must already know who they are. And do you mean to tell me you were trying to get my sons to give you information about known drug dealers? You were going to put my sons' lives in danger by having them give you information about known drug dealers?'
"I turned to my sons and asked, 'Tell me, who were you with?' And my boys said, 'Momma, we weren't with nobody!'
"I turned to Abrams. I say, 'Who are you?'
"All of a sudden he changes his story. He says, 'I'm really not a police officer. I'm a schoolteacher. One of my students was shot and killed in the area where I was talking to your boys. And my son's and nephew's lives are in danger. I'm conducting my own investigation of what happened.'
"It was such a stupid thing to say. I'm real angry. But at that point I was still calm. I was puzzled. I told him, 'Well, I work for the school district. What school do you work for?'
"And then he says, 'I don't want to tell you because I don't want this to get personal.'
"That was it. I knew he was lying. He was lying, and I was angry. I told him, 'Look, here, motherfucker, you made this shit personal when you stopped my boys and tried to get my son into your car!'
"Then I backed my car up and parked and blocked his car in. And when Abrams sees me backing up my car and parking and blocking him in, he starts getting real nervous, real paranoid, and rolls up his window. I take the Club -- you know, that security device you use on your steering wheel -- and go up to his driver's side window. I see that he's got a cellular phone in his hand, and I tell him to call the police. He's punching numbers into it and I say, 'That's right, motherfucker, you better call the real motherfuckin' police right fuckin' now because I'm about to snatch your ass outta that car and beat the hell out of you!'
"I gave my son some change and told him to go call the police. Then I went around to the back of Abrams's car and pounded on the window with the Club, but not hard enough to break the window. And I tell Abrams, 'You better call somebody, 'cause you're gonna get your ass hurt out here today! Get outta that car and tell me who you are!'
"He says, 'I don't wanna get out of the car because I'm afraid you've got a gun.'
"I say, 'Motherfucker, if I had a gun, I'd have shot your ass a long time ago.'
"So, I hand the Club to my son and I back off a ways so Abrams will get out of the car. There are all these white folks standing on the sidewalk, watching what's happening. And what Abrams did next was real clever. It was very smart. He knows exactly what he's doing. He's real cunning. As he moves to get out of the car, he honks the horn. He honks it just enough to get people's attention. And as he gets out, he sort of raises his hands up in the air. He backs over to the sidewalk and says in this loud voice, 'What do you want from me? Do you wantmoney?'
"And I tell him, 'Hell, no! I don't want no money from you. I want to know who you are and why you were trying to get my son into your car!' Asking, 'Do you want money?' Acting like I was tryin' to rob him. Doin' all that in front of all those people, and he thought he was gonna get away with it. I was real angry. I told my son, 'Hand me back that Club.' I had straight tunnel vision. All I could see was that Club, and all I could think about was beating Abrams with it. I don't know why I thought I needed the Club to beat him. When he got out of the car I could see he was a real small man. I could've beat him with my bare hands. But I wanted the Club, and it's a good thing that my other son ran up about that time and told me that two police were there on bicycles. It's a good thing they showed up because, like I said, by that point I had tunnel vision. All I could see was Abrams and the Club."
If Brown's encounter with Abrams had so far been annoying, what happened next truly tried her patience. Abrams told the police that the reason he stopped Brown's sons was that someone had thrown something at his car, and he wanted to find out who had done it. Brown tried again and again to convince the police that Abrams was lying. She says she pointed out inconsistencies and contradictions in Abrams's account of events. She says she told them that he had flashed a police badge at her. She asked them to search his car. The police told her that everything had been a "misunderstanding."
The word "misunderstanding" still enrages her.
"If the roles had been reversed," she says, "if I had been a white woman and Abrams had been a black man, and I had told the police that he had come to my neighborhood and tried to lure my white child into his car, they wouldn't have called it a misunderstanding. Abrams would have been put in the back of a patrol car and done all of his explaining in the interrogation room at a police station."
But Brown didn't give up. She insisted that she wanted to press charges against Abrams. The police told her that if she wanted to press charges, she and Abrams would have to go down to the police station to file statements. Abrams complained that if he had to go to the police station, he'd miss class.
"He changed his story again. First he was a police officer, then he was a teacher, and then he was a student who was going to miss a class. He just kept on changing his story. And I wanted to press charges against him. I was gonna see this through to the end."
Brown and Abrams went to the police station. Abrams, Brown remembers, parked up the street near Abraham Lincoln High School. She filed her statement. Abrams filed his. And he walked out of the police station a free man.
Brown spent the better part of the following day calling the police station. She says she wanted to make sure someone followed up on what had happened to her sons. Her persistence paid off.
Two days after Brown pestered police about her statement against Abrams, the San Francisco Police Department issued a warrant for his arrest. In the great rush of media attention the warrant received, Brown learned that a half hour before Abrams stopped her son, he'd successfully lured a 13-year-old boy from her neighborhood into his car. Abrams had posed as a police officer and told the boy to take off his clothes so he could search him for drugs.
On April 23, Abrams surrendered in court to face charges involving Brown's sons, the 13-year-old boy, and outstanding warrants that involved several other Bay Area juveniles whom Abrams had encountered over the past two years.
Brown still doesn't sleep well. She has complained to the San Francisco Police Department about their initial handling of the case. She's received an apology of sorts from the assistant chief of police. He told her, she says, that the officers who questioned her and Abrams weren't racist and dealt with the matter according to department policy.
"I still think," Brown says, "that if I'd been a white mother, they would have listened to me. Abrams wouldn't have walked out of the police station a free man. We still don't know what he was doing between the time he left the police station and the time he surrendered in court.
"I worry about the effect that all this has had on my sons. Not so much for the youngest, but for the oldest. He's old enough to understand what was happening, and he wasn't happy about it. I think he's lost the respect and trust he had for the police. He saw how hard it was for me to get them to listen. I don't know what to tell him. It seems that the police work to protect and serve, but they protect and serve only their own community."