It should perhaps come as no surprise that District Attorney Kamala Harris sought to draw attention to a hate crime case her office filed in July against Chris Brymer, a white drifter and former USC lineman who allegedly threatened two black men in Mission Bay, assaulting one of them. It's election season, and Harris is the Democratic nominee for state attorney general. Launching a politically resonant prosecution can't hurt.
But there are a few problems with the case against Brymer, and the latest could be a big one: One of the state's two key witnesses and victims now contradicts the version of events laid out by law-enforcement authorities.
That witness is Henry Therkield, a homeless ex-con who police and prosecutors have claimed received a verbal death threat from Brymer during an encounter on July 19 in a soup kitchen at Third Street and Mission Rock. According to sworn police testimony during a preliminary hearing, Brymer approached Therkield and said, "Someone is gonna die." This supposed statement formed the basis for a felony charge of criminal threatening against Brymer.
But Therkield, in a recent interview with SF Weekly — we caught up with him at a Mission Bay Muni station where he goes to recharge his parolee's ankle bracelet — denied that such a threat took place. "I can't say that. I didn't hear it," he said.
Therkield did maintain that Brymer called both him and the other alleged victim, Shaun Parker, "nigger." (Brymer denies using the racial epithet.) In addition to the threatening charges, Brymer is charged with hate-crime assault for attacking Parker, Therkield's acquaintance, outside the soup kitchen. (Therkield said he did not witness the alleged attack.) Brymer and his defense attorney claim he was acting in self-defense.
In another interesting twist, it appears that Parker has skipped town and moved to Los Angeles. Therkield told us that he warned Parker to leave after Parker allegedly beat up a woman they both knew. "Shaun ain't coming back," Therkield said. "I'm gonna whup his ass ... he's scared to death."
With one victim on the lam and the other denying that a threat took place, what's left of the case against Brymer? Assistant District Attorney Victor Hwang, who is handling the case, declined to comment, referring questions to Seth Steward, a spokesman for the DA's office, who did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Deputy Public Defender Nicole Solis, Brymer's lawyer, said Therkield's statements are further evidence that all charges against Brymer should be dropped. "I just know that the [assistant] DA is probably not taking a look at this case as he should," she said. "I believe that they are not acting in good faith. It is a malicious prosecution."
As we reported in last week's cover story ["Head Case," 9/29], medical experts and family members of Brymer believe he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disorder that appears in football players who have gone through repeated head trauma. Among its symptoms are irrational bouts of anger and schizophrenialike delusions. Whether you buy that diagnosis or not, the rationality of the charges against him now seems open to question.