It’s been 37 years since Isaac Brown shot Minneapolis police officer Richard Miller and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. That possibility is now becoming real.
After Brown came before the state parole board this year for the sixth time, Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy ruled that he can leave Lino Lakes prison on Tuesday and be placed in a halfway house under a work release program. He’ll be up for another parole review early next year.
Brown is now 59 years old.
Richard Miller was 59 and was nearing retirement after 18 years on the Minneapolis force. He was investigating a reported stolen vehicle in north Minneapolis when he stopped Brown. Brown shot Miller in the chest multiple times.
Brown was convicted and given a life prison sentence. At the time that allowed for the possibility of parole. Now, under current law, life in prison means just that.
Roy explained in a letter to Brown that he and an advisory panel took into account his progress in treatment, his behavior in prison, psychological and other evaluations, criminal history, risk to the public and “victim sentiments.”
“The halfway house placement is expected to last a minimum of a year,” said corrections spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald, who emphasized that Brown “has not been granted parole and has no guarantee of parole.”
In the time between his most recent parole reviews, Roy explained, “you have made satisfactory adjustment, meeting the directives set by myself and [the parole advisory panel].”
He pointed out in the letter that time in the halfway house “provides you with an opportunity to experience life, focusing on employment and learning a positive day-to-day routine for success in the community.”
Roy directed Brown to stay out of trouble while in the halfway house and “seek viable outside employment.”
The corrections commissioner then closed his letter with “I wish you the best as you move forward.”
‘Mix justice with mercy’
Tony Bouza was police chief when Miller was gunned down, and on Thursday he remembered that day’s “awful tragedy” and how “incredibly sad” it was for him, his police force and others across the city.
That said, Bouza added that if Brown has shown “accountability and responsibility for what he did, I would support his parole.”
The city’s chief for most of the 1980s said that releasing a black man for killing a white cop “is a great opportunity for white America. ... Ours is a racist society. Any opportunity to mix justice with mercy should be embraced.”
Those sentiments are not shared by retired police officer Bill Lundquist, who was on the Minneapolis force at the time of Miller’s murder.
“That’s cold-blooded murder,” said Lundquist Thursday. “It’s a sinful act, terrible. This guy shouldn’t be breathing the same air I am.”
As memories of Miller’s death surfaced anew with Brown’s pending departure from prison, Lundquist choked back tears and said, “It’s tough. ... It’s hard when you see officers get killed.”
Officer was shot 5 times
On Aug. 25, 1981, Brown was riding in a stolen pickup truck with his girlfriend and his brother in north Minneapolis. He was looking to sell stolen stereo equipment to a man who lived near 16th and Girard avenues N.
As Brown was negotiating with the man, Miller pulled up in his squad car and asked, “Whose car is this? Whose car is this?” according to court records.
As Miller approached the pickup on foot, Brown got out from the passenger seat and said, “Ah, officer, everything’s all right. Everything’s cool.” Brown then unzipped a pouch, pulled out a handgun, and shot Miller at least three times in the chest.
Miller drew his revolver and attempted to return fire. Brown ran across the street and fired more shots at Miller.
Miller radioed for help and collapsed next to his squad car. At least five shots struck the officer.
“This is a trying and painful moment, and we must honor and revere a brave man who has fallen,” Bouza said at the time. Dozens of investigators from Minneapolis and St. Paul fanned out in search of the gunman.
Brown was brought to police by a minister and surrendered on the day of Miller’s funeral.
Jurors convicted Brown of intentional murder of a peace officer, and he received his life sentence from Hennepin County District Judge Patrick Fitzgerald, with parole possible starting as soon as 16½ years into his term.