Ossie Brown

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Ossie B. Brown
District Attorney of East Baton Rouge Parish
In office
Preceded by Sargent Pitcher, Jr.
Succeeded by Bryan Bush
Personal details
Born (1926-03-19)March 19, 1926
Winnfield, Winn Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died August 28, 2008(2008-08-28) (aged 82)
Baton Rouge
East Baton Rouge Parish
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Faye Underwood Brown (married ca. 1960–2008, his death)

Kirk Brown
Dana Brent Brown
Kelli Brown Leon

Four grandchildren
Alma mater

Baker High School
Louisiana State University

Louisiana State University Law Center
Occupation Attorney

Ossie B. Brown (March 19, 1926 – August 28, 2008) was a Baton Rouge attorney and Democrat who served two six-year terms as district attorney of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, from 1972 to 1984. He had established a criminal law practice before his tenure as Parish DA. In 1970, he successfully defended United States Army Sergeant David Mitchell in the My Lai Massacre cases. Brown was also a talented musician and an active Baptist layman.

Early life and education[edit]

Ossie (pronounced OH SEE) Brown was born to George F. Brown and the former Lovie Phenald in Winnfield, the seat of government of Winn Parish. He was reared in Baker in East Baton Rouge Parish and graduated from Baker High School. A musician, he composed the Baker High alma mater. He was named president of Boys State.

Brown attended Napa Junior College in Napa, California, and entered the United States Navy during World War II. Afterward, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in pre-law from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He was the university drum major and lettered in basketball and tennis. He served as president of Sigma Chi social fraternity. Brown graduated from the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center.

He set up a private practice in Baton Rouge for criminal law. Prior to his tenure as district attorney, he served as the Baton Rouge municipal court judge.[1] In 1970, Pat Screen, a former LSU quarterback and future East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President, joined Brown's firm.[2]

My Lai case[edit]

Brown's most memorable court victory was in the 1970 trial of Sergeant Mitchell (born 1940) held at Fort Hood in central Texas. Mitchell was one of more than 20 men accused by the Army of having committed war crimes against the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. Brown predicted that Mitchell's prosecutors, who rested their arguments early, had not "proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt." The next day, Brown collapsed in his motel room and was later taken to a hospital in Temple in Bell County. The judge, Colonel George R. Robinson, adjourned the case until Brown's recovery.[3]

One of the witnesses against Mitchell was former radioman Charles Sledge (born 1947), a luggage-factory worker from Sardis in Panola County in northwestern Mississippi. Sledge said that he "positively" saw Mitchell shoot a group of Vietnamese women, children, and senior men who took cover in a ditch. Sledge also said that he saw Mitchell confer with Second Lieutenant William Calley Jr., at the edge of the ditch before the two opened fire on the villagers from about five or six feet away. "They were falling and screaming," Sledge testified.[3] Calley, meanwhile, was tried November 16, 1970, at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Brown brought out several discrepancies between Sledge's courtroom statements and his earlier testimony before Army investigators. He had earlier said that he "believed" Mitchell had fired into the ditch, but at the trial said he was "positive" that Mitchell had killed the civilians.[3] Sledge was acquitted of charges against him.[3]

Other controversies[edit]

As DA, Brown was involved in several controversies related to control of media that he regarded as obscene or unseemly. In 1973, Brown prevented Baton Rouge theaters from showing the NC-13-rated film Last Tango in Paris starring Marlon Brando. The Rapides Parish District Attorney Edwin O. Ware, III, also banned the film in his parish. In 1979, Brown blocked the showing of the comedy, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Brown asked Baton Rouge magazine distributors not to sell the March 1977 issue of Hustler, which a state court judge in Ohio had ruled obscene.[4]

In 1975, Brown dropped twenty-six felony counts against Dave Pearce, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, on the grounds of Pearce's age and poor health. His action was criticized.[5]

In 1980, attorney Murphy Bell filed a civil suit against the city of Baton Rouge and District Attorney Brown regarding civil rights protection for African-American suspects. The suit stemmed from the accidental fatal shooting by police of black teenager Clarence Morrison, Jr. (born ca. 1963). The suit alleged that Brown had used the grand jury investigative procedure as a "legal backup" to support arbitrary actions by the police department. The city and Brown won in the initial trial and on appeal to the state court.[6]

In 1984, as his tenure wound down, Brown was indicted by a federal grand jury for extortion, mail fraud, and perjury after he failed to indict two men for possession of ten grams of cocaine. A day after the grand jury declined to indict in the cocaine case, the wealthy father of one of the suspects lent Brown $168,000. A state district judge testified that Brown had asked him to suppress evidence in the case. Brown was acquitted.[5]

He said that God wanted him to seek a third term. He had been strongly opposed to drugs and pornography during his tenure. Though Brown had been the first EBR DA in memory to have been unopposed for a second term, he was defeated in his third run in 1984 by the Republican Bryan Edward Bush, Jr.. The Republican was unseated after one term.[5]

Professional activities as DA[edit]

During his time as district attorney, Brown was instrumental in the establishment of the Baton Rouge Rape Crisis Center, the Pretrial Intervention Program, the Victim and Witness Assistance Program, and "I Care", a drug prevention program. Brown served on the executive council of the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement. Brown was elected president of both the Louisiana State and the National District Attorneys' associations. He was chairman of the first child abuse committee formed by the National District Attorney's Association. He wrote You and the Law, a book used in civics classes in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.[1]

Civic leadership, death and legacy[edit]

Brown was a member of the advisory board of the Salvation Army and the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America Istrouma Council. He also worked in the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. He hosted the Lions Club Crippled Children's Telethon. He supported the Louisiana Baptist Children's Home orphanage in Monroe. Since 1964, Brown had been an active member of the Florida Boulevard Baptist Church, where he taught the Fellowship Bible class. Earlier, he had been music director of various churches.[1]

After he left the DA's office, Brown resumed his law practice; he retired in the year 2000. One of the partners in the practice is Brown's son, Dana Brent Brown.[7]

Brown died on August 28, 2008. Services were held on August 30, 2008, at the Florida Boulevard Baptist Church. Entombment was in the Green Oaks Memorial Park Mausoleum. Brown was survived by his wife of forty-eight years, the former Faye Underwood (born November 5, 1931); two sons, Dana Brown (born July 10, 1962) and his wife Natalie (born November 29, 1970); and Kirk Brown of Napa, California; daughter, Kelli B. Leon (born December 24, 1968) of Baton Rouge; four grandchildren, Brycyn Brown, Max Brown, and Alexa and Amber Leon; and four great-grandchildren.

Current EBR District Attorney Hillar Moore, III, told the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate that Brown "stood for certain principles and took positions that were always firm. He was always for the victims of crime." Moore said that when he worked for Brown as an investigator while he was still in college, the DA "adopted me as a son."[4] Moore, who supported Brown in the 1984 election, was kept on as an investigator under DA Bryan Bush despite their belonging to different political parties.


  1. ^ a b c Advocate Obituaries: Ossie Brown", Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, August 30, 2008: http://www.legacy.com/theadvocate/DeathNotices.asp?Page=Lifestory&PersonId=116574977
  2. ^ "James E. Shelledy, "Walter Monsour, the most powerful man you've never voted for"". batonrouge.com. Archived from the original on August 31, 2009. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d "The My Lai Trials Begin", Time, November 2, 1970: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,909677-2,00.html
  4. ^ a b Steven Ward, "Former DA Ossie Brown dies at 82", Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, August 29, 2008, p. 1
  5. ^ a b c Ben Toledano, "Laissez les bons temps rouler: Louisiana in its pre-modern era", National Review, BNET Business Review on-line, August 15, 1986: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_v38/ai_4328771/pg_8
  6. ^ "Mrs. Susie Lite MORRISON and Clarence Morrison, Sr., Mother and Father of Deceased Clarence Morrison, Jr., suing on their behalf and as Administrators of Clarence Morrison, Jr., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF BATON ROUGE et al., Defendants-Appellees, including East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Ossie B. Brown, 1980: http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/614/614.F2d.77.79-2532.html
  7. ^ Law Offices of Ossie Brown, St. Ferdinand St., Baton Rouge, LA 70802:http://pview.findlaw.com/view/2267741_1
Preceded by
Sargent Pitcher, Jr.
District Attorney of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana

Ossie B. Brown

Succeeded by
Bryan Edward Bush, Jr.