Cold Case Suspect's Wife Files Wrongful Death Claim Against SDPD

Rebecca Brown hopes to clear the name of her husband, Kevin, who is accused of killing a teenager in 1984

The wife of a former San Diego Police Department criminalist accused in a 1984 cold case has filed a wrongful death claim against the city of San Diego, accusing the SDPD of a "misleading” and “defamatory” investigation that led her husband to commit suicide.

Rebecca Brown filed the claim Wednesday in hopes of clearing the name of her spouse, Kevin Charles Brown, 62.

SDPD investigators say their colleague Brown worked with another suspect, Ronald Tatro, to strangle, beat and kill 14-year-old Claire Hough in 1984. Her body was found on the Torrey Pines State Beach with her throat cut and left breast taken off.

"I just want to let you know that my husband didn't do these things," said Rebecca at a press conference Thursday. "I believe it so strongly I am sitting here between these two wonderful attorneys because people have to know that if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone and we have to make sure this."

A just-released warrant reveals DNA evidence links a San Diego crime lab technician to a 1984 cold case. The warrant says the technician’s sperm was found inside the victim. The suspect’s wife and attorney still maintain his innocence. NBC 7’s Dave Summers reports.

According to a December 2013 search warrant, Brown’s DNA matched sperm found on vaginal swabs collected during Hough’s autopsy, tying him to the crime.

However, Rebecca’s claim says “the medical examiner’s microscopic examination of a fluid sample from the victim’s vaginal vault was negative for the presence of sperm.”

The court document says it was common for criminalists to use their own blood and sperm samples to test their forensic techniques. Brown’s table was close to the criminalist in charge of examining evidence from Hough’s case, Rebecca's attorney Gene Iredale said. 

"The fact is that it is highly likely that the result on the single swab of a tiny amount of Kevin Brown's DNA was not the result of it having been deposited in the body of Claire Hough at the time of her death, but as a result of cross-contamination," said Iredale. 

The SDPD has said cross-contamination would not be possible in this case because Brown did not handle evidence for it. He instead worked on firearms and narcotics crimes.

But potential cross-contamination would present the SDPD with an institutional dilemma, according to the claim.

“If Mr. Brown’s DNA were present as a result of the contamination, it would call into question the procedures employed by the crime lab in the years before the DNA analysis became prevalent, as well as the reliability of the S.D.P.D. DNA analysis of ‘cold cases,’” the document states.

When investigators served the 2013 search warrant, they seized items beyond the scope of the “overbroad” warrant, Rebecca says in the claim, including her lesson plans, teaching materials and childhood memorabilia. The officers also took privileged documents belonging to Brown’s brother-in-law, an attorney.

Because she says the items were not related to the investigation, Rebecca’s attorneys believe it was an illegal seizure.

The claim states even after the evidence review was finished in March 2014, the SDPD did not return the items until November, the month after Brown hanged himself.

“Inferentially, at least one of the purposes for illegally refusing to return the illegally seized items was to convey the impression to Mr. Brown that he would shortly be arrested, thereby causing pain, stress, and frustration to Mr. Brown and his family,” the claim says.

The attorneys also allege investigators told witnesses false information, knowing that it would get back to Brown.

The effect of the “investigative misconduct” caused Brown, who suffered from mental health issues, so much stress that he became obsessed with the fear that he would be accused in the case and arrested, his wife says. As a result, he ultimately committed suicide on Oct. 21, the claim states.

The SDPD announced two days later that they had identified Brown and Tatro as suspects in the case and were preparing to arrest Brown when he was found dead.

The San Diego Cold Case Division defended its investigation, naming crime lab Tech Kevin Brown and Ronald Tatro as suspects in the murder of Claire Hough. NBC 7’s Dave Summers reports from police headquarters with Hough’s autopsy report and that of Barabara Nantais who was killed in similar fashion six years earlier.

The announcement included “misleading and defamatory information” aimed at “using Mr. Brown as a scapegoat to avoid scrutiny of police misconduct,” cross-contamination issues and the cold case analysis’ reliability, according to the claim.

Finally, the document says investigators questioned Brown’s Catholic priest and confessor about what he had shared — a violation of the “privilege of clergy.”

"He was not a rapist and a killer," said Rebecca on Thursday. "He was a quiet, good man who devoted his life to helping people, in helping he thought by putting away bad guys doing his job."

Rebecca is seeking unspecified damages more than $10,000 for pain, suffering and what she says was Brown’s wrongful death. The city has 60 days to review the claim, and if the city council rejects it, Brown’s widow can file a lawsuit.

NBC 7 reached out to the SDPD for a response. The spokesman referred us the City Attorney’s office, which has declined to comment.

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