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Beloved Michigan Cop Took Vacation. COVID Made It His Last.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/MSP First District

Trooper Herman Brown of the Michigan State Police was sometimes actually thanked by people he arrested.

“Most of the time,” his longtime fellow trooper Sgt. Sharon McDonald attests.

That included people who were being their wildest or worst selves when Brown arrived on the scene.

“You’re acting silly,” he would tell them. “Calm down.”

He would then offer an affirmation.

“You’re still a good person,” he would say, his words matched by voice and demeanor.

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After almost 28 years as a “road dog” patrolling Monroe and Lenawee counties in a radio car, he still chose to see the best in his fellow humans.

“He made people feel special,” McDonald said.

“He understood we don’t generally meet people on their best day,” she told The Daily Beast. “And he never judged them on the five- or 10-minute interactions we have with people.”

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He also still loved his job. He would start every tour with a standard transmission to the dispatcher.

“This is Unit 1414. I’ll be checking into service… and I’ll be taking a mighty bite out of crime.”

Along with the other standard equipment, Brown would have a mask in this time of COVID-19. He observed all the recommended precautions, McDonald said.

In an October ruling on a lawsuit brought by the GOP-dominated Michigan legislature, the state Supreme Court voided Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s mask mandate. A mask order by the state health department remains in place, but it is not enforceable in the way of the seat-belt law that can get you a ticket from a state trooper.

Too many people were too careless in Michigan even as variants began to circulate. The proof of that: a surge of new COVID-19 since early March, the state now leading the country in cases per capita.

Brown seemed to have picked a good time to depart for a two-week vacation to Florida with his girlfriend. But he was either already infected with COVID-19 or caught it down there, where Gov. Ron DeSantis enforces no rules whatsoever.

Brown did not let on to his fellow troopers back at the Monroe Post No. 14 that he had fallen ill.

“He was still texting, acting like he was still on vacation,” McDonald said. “He didn’t want us to worry,”

Then in mid-March, the girlfriend called his fellow troopers to say that Brown was in a Florida hospital on a ventilator. His radio car was still parked where he left it when he went on vacation, and it seemed impossible he would not be fine. He could not receive visitors, but McDonald figured she would travel down to Florida and drop off a trooper teddy bear.

“I knew I couldn’t see him,” she later said.

Then, at 5:30 a.m. last Monday, McDonald got a call at home from Brown’s girlfriend.

“As soon as I said hello, I could hear her crying, so I knew,” McDonald recalled.

The news hit the other troopers just as it would any family that lost an irreplaceable loved one.

“A lot of grown men crying,” McDonald later said. “I think more than just one woman.”

She took solace in the thought that Brown had known how they all felt about him. “You couldn’t help but love him,” she said.

And this was not the way they imagined losing a fellow cop.

“Being a police officer, you expect something job-related,” she said. “You get hurt or killed on the job.”

Here was a different kind of threat—one that hasn’t gone away, not even close, despite vaccines and a year of lockdowns and misery.

“We’re used to watching suspects’ hands and never turning our back,” McDonald said. “This is something you cannot defend yourself from.”

Despite all the precautions they had all taken, the best of them had fallen.

“We know how careful we have been,” she said. “And he was just a reminder of this invisible enemy is out there. If it gets you, it gets you.”

That was certain. Still, there were so many unknowns.

“I don’t think we’ll ever find out,” McDonald said. “I don’t think we’ll ever truly know where or how or why this happened.”

In the unreality of the loss, McDonald remembered what made Brown so special.

“There will never be another Trooper Brown,” she declared. “Whenever he arrived at the scene, you expected things to calm down and be handled properly. Nothing surprised him… Even when somebody was running around screaming and yelling.”

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She said that Brown often stayed in touch with young people he arrested.

“Just to guide them in the right direction, help them make better decisions than they were,” she said. “He did that on his own time.’”

But a kid did not need to be troubled to get Brown’s attention.

A 6-year-old boy invited Brown—a former Marine—to visit his school on Veterans Day, and the trooper stayed through the morning, attending class and walking the halls with his thrilled host. He attended the assembly, where he stood on the bleachers with the kids during the Pledge of Allegiance. A photo shows him standing huge and in uniform, but with a smile that put the surrounding youngsters at obvious ease.

“That was truly him,” McDonald said.

He also was what McDonald termed “a big man who loved to bake.” His specialty was his grandmother’s chocolate pound cake.

“We always asked for the recipe and he’d say, ‘You know what, I forgot it as soon as I made it,’” McDonald recalled. “We were hoping at his retirement he might [finally give it up].”

He had passed the 25-year mark, so he could have retired at any time, but he kept at it. They now had to keep going without him, and McDonald was out on patrol the day after Brown’s death when a woman driving with a youngster lowered her window.

“They said they knew Trooper Brown and sent their condolences,” she said.

McDonald began to cry, which uniformed sergeants are not supposed to do at the wheel of their radio car.

“I put on my sunglasses,” she told The Daily Beast.

She and her fellow troopers will continue to patrol as the virus surges in Michigan, with 8,413 new cases reported on Saturday. Hospitalizations surpassed 2,700, more than twice the number when Brown left for vacation.

McDonald figures they may never know whether Brown took the COVID-19 with him or caught it in Florida. What they do know is his radio car is still where he left it.

“We’re waiting for him to come back,” she said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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