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NYPD detective worked to change system she says let her down

▶ Watch Video: Sneak peek: Katrina Brownlee: The Good Cop

She calls it the “blue wall of silence.” Each time Katrina Cooke Brownlee called 911 after her correction officer fiancé beat her, she says the police walked away after seeing his shield. As she shares with “48 Hours” and “CBS Saturday Morning” co-host Michelle Miller,  she took matters into her own hands and joined the NYPD to change the system from within. 

KATRINA’S STORY

Katrina Brownlee: When I was in Vice as a undercover, I spent approximately … 18 months walking the streets of Queens doing prostitution. … The only difference was that I was working undercover and this was their actual life. But we had a lot of similar stories. … To hear their stories and not able to talk to them about my story and how I survived — it was heartbreaking a lot of the times.

Katrina Brownlee: My name is Katrina Brownlee. And when I was 22 years old, I lived with my ex-fiancé in a house of horror.

Katrina Brownlee: I don’t remember not having a black eye. … Whether it’d been the right one or the left one. … it was a busted lip (sighs). It was always something. … that’s why shades became a signature for me.

Katrina Cooke Brownlee retired last year as one of the New York City Police Department’s top-ranked detectives. That she is alive is a miracle

CBS News

Katrina Brownlee: I called the police on him several times.

Katrina Brownlee: He was a New York City correction officer.

Katrina Brownlee: And every time … He would flash that badge. And every time he flashed that badge, they would walk away.

Katrina Brownlee: That badge was much more important than my life.

Keri Herzog: She got to the point where she feared for her safety and the safety of her kids, and that’s when she decided no more.

Keri Herzog: But when the decision was made to leave, the risk factor for Katrina went through the roof.

Keri Herzog: My name is Keri Herzog. In January of 1993, I was an assistant district attorney.

Keri Herzog: I don’t think she in any way could have foreseen what was going to happen to her when she came through that door

JANUARY 9, 1993 | 11:30 A.M.

“I don’t think she in any way could have foreseen what was going to happen to her when she came through that door,” said Keri Herzog.

Suffolk County Police Department

Katrina Brownlee: He opened the door and he just had, like, a weird look on his face. It was strange. … And … he pointed a gun to me and said, “this is the day you die, bitch,” and he shot me in my stomach. And then he shot me again. And — (cries).

Keri Herzog: He emptied the gun after the first five … reloaded and proceeded to shoot her again five more times.

Keri Herzog: Each time he would say to Katrina, “are you ready to die, Katrina?” Bang. “Is this the day you’re going to die, Katrina?” … Bang. “You know you deserve this, Katrina.” Bang.

Keri Herzog: This was a man on a mission. And he was armed and deadly.

Keri Herzog: This could have easily been a homicide. But because of Katrina’s will to live and will to survive, it wasn’t.

Katrina Brownlee: God had … a whole different plan for me.

Katrina Brownlee: My story starts from a very dark place, and it becomes a story of grace, a story of love and a story of hope.

Michelle Miller: Why did you want to become a cop?

Katrina Brownlee: I wanted to become a good cop.

Michelle Miller: There’s a difference?

Katrina Brownlee: Hmm, yeah. … a good cop has empathy, a good cop cares about people that they have to protect and have to serve.

Katrina Brownlee: I was a great cop.

“THIS MAN TORTURED ME”

Assistant DA Keri Herzog will never forget opening the case file.

A path of Katrina Brownlee’s blood is seen in the living room and leading into the adjacent room. “This is the photograph that says suffering to me,” Keri Herzog.

Suffolk County Police Department

Keri Herzog: This is the photograph that says suffering to me.

Keri Herzog: This shows a path of blood through the living room and leading into the adjacent room.

Keri Herzog: It literally took my breath away.

Keri rushed to the intensive care unit at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital on Long Island as soon as she learned the victim was still alive.

Keri Herzog: There was a horror show unfolding right before my eyes. The first thing that that came to my head is how did this woman even survive?

In the afternoon of January 9, 1993, a car came screeching up to Brookhaven’s emergency room entrance. The driver hurriedly put a woman in a wheelchair and pushed her in the door, then sped off. 

That woman was Katrina Cooke Brownlee.  Barely conscious and riddled with bullets, the 22-year-old mother of two somehow managed to tell authorities who did this to her — and where he lived.

Lead detective Raymond Blasko raced to the house where a man calmly opened the door and said, “I was expecting you.” It was Katrina’s ex-fiancé, Alex Irvin.

Raymond Blasko: I proceeded to arrest him at that point … The crime scene indicated a violent, brutal attack and that the victim during it was moving around from room to room …  trying to get away during the attack.

Raymond Blasko: The floor of the bathroom. There’s a lot of blood on everything in the bathroom. That shows extensive bleeding.

Raymond Blasko: Because of the blood loss. … I did not believe she would survive.

Neither did the young assistant DA. Keri took a dying declaration from Katrina at the hospital to use as evidence for a grand jury.

Keri Herzog: Her voice was just above a whisper … each breath took a certain amount of labor on her part. But she was able to do what we needed to have her do. I didn’t think I’d ever see her again.

But Keri didn’t know just who she was dealing with. Katrina had been beating the odds most of her life.

Katrina was a struggling 18-year-old single mom living in the Brevoort Projects in Brooklyn when she met the man she thought would get her the house with a white picket fence she’d always dreamed of — a correction officer on New York’s notorious Rikers Island. It was Alex Irvin.

At 18, Katrina met Alex Irvin, a New York City correction officer working at Rikers Island. They began dating and had a daughter together. 

Boys and Girls High School

Katrina Brownlee: So, when I get into this relationship with this person, it’s a way out.

Michelle Miller: It’s a way out.

Katrina Brownlee: I was in survival mode … And he had a car. … wasn’t used to riding around in a fancy car. He was a correction officer.

Michelle Miller: He had a job.

Katrina Brownlee: He had a — a career. A gun. So, to me, it was like, OK, my man got a gun, he got a good job. I’m from the projects and look at me.

Michelle Miller: You thought you’d escaped?

Katrina Brownlee: Correct. Right. That’s what I’m thinking like, I’m winning. When actually I was losing.

Katrina says he showed his violent temper almost immediately.

Katrina Brownlee (walking with Miller outside the Brevoort Projects): This is where it began here. Out in those streets. Yeah.

Michelle Miller: He would beat you in the street?

Katrina Brownlee: Oh, yeah.

Katrina knew she should end it but says her grandmother – the only adult in her life she trusted – convinced her to stay.   

Katrina Brownlee: My grandmother said to me, you know, this man has a job and … he can provide for you, and you have a daughter and he’s willing to take on your daughter and to take care of you and I think that this is something you should try to consider. So, when your grandmother tells you that, then you think, well, maybe — you know what? Maybe I should do this.

Michelle Miller: This is knowing that he had physically assaulted you?

Katrina Brownlee: Yeah.

Michelle Miller: How do you see that now?

Katrina Brownlee: Was the worst advice that I could have ever gotten.

They soon had a baby – a girl – Katrina’s second daughter. But, Katrina says, it didn’t stop the beatings.

Michelle Miller: What would spark his anger?

Katrina Brownlee: Maybe it was just a bad day at Rikers Island. Maybe I didn’t want to have sex with him. Maybe the baby was crying. Maybe I had on something he didn’t like to see me in.

Michelle Miller: He was that abusive?

Katrina Brownlee: Yeah, it was that abusive.

Katrina says she called 911 several times.

Katrina Brownlee: Every time that I called the police on him, they either would come and … tell us to work it out or … he would have a separate conversation either outside or in a room with them and they would walk away.

She called it “the blue wall of silence.” The minute they saw his badge, she says, they left. After a while, Katrina says she stopped calling. 

Katrina Brownlee: I had no respect for cops. I had no respect for them at all.

In 1992, Alex Irvin moved Katrina and the two girls from Brooklyn to a small house in Medford, Long Island. But, she says, the abuse continued and only got worse. Finally, after five years of getting beaten black and blue, Katrina said enough.  

Katrina Brownlee: I was pregnant, and I said to myself, I’m not bringing another child into this toxic, violent relationship with this man and that I am going to save my money, get some strength from somewhere somehow and get out of this relationship. And that’s what I did.

Katrina and her daughters moved to a local motel.  But after a month, she ran out of money. Desperate, she called Alex Irvin. Katrina says he was like a different person and even offered to help her get back on her feet.

Katrina Brownlee: We talked and were friendly with one another, something that I had never experienced with him. Ever.

Michelle Miller: You were hopeful.

Katrina Brownlee: Yeah. And I didn’t think he was clever enough to, like, try to set me up.

“He pointed a gun to me and said, ‘This is the day you die, bitch,’ and he shot me in my stomach. And then he shot me again,” said Katrina Brownlee. “He tortured me.”

CBS News

On January 9, Katrina says she walked straight into a trap. She left her older daughter with a neighbor and went with her younger daughter to Irvin’s house. This is what she told us happened next. A warning: you may find it disturbing.  

Katrina Brownlee: He opened the door and he just had, like, a weird look on his face. It was strange … I went to place my youngest daughter in her bed because she was asleep. And as soon as I came out … he shot me in my stomach. And then he shot me again.

Katrina Brownlee: I fell back on our couch, and I looked down. And my stomach had flattened. And I wasn’t, like, bleeding. … and I said to him, I’m like, “Why am I not bleeding?” And I remember him saying, “Shut up.” And I remember trying to get up and crawl. And he shot me in my arm here [touches her left arm].

Katrina Brownlee (in tears): I remember picking up the phone and … trying to call 911. … The phone lines were cut.

Michelle Miller: You’re in the living room.

Katrina Brownlee: Yeah, crawling on the floor like a dog … I remember I looked up to him and he took his foot and he kicked me in my face. … this man tortured me.  “He pointed a gun to me and said, ‘This is the day you die, bitch,’ and he shot me in my stomach. And then he shot me again.”

Katrina Brownlee: Oh, my God. He tortured me.

A KNOCK ON THE DOOR

Alex Irvin didn’t just want Katrina dead, says Keri Herzog. He wanted her to suffer.

Keri Herzog: This was an angry, angry man. … You can almost hear the defendant saying, It ain’t over … ’til I say it’s over.

Keri Herzog: He was mocking her as he was firing on her … Is this the bullet that’s going to do it, Katrina?

And he was in no hurry, says Katrina. When she could no longer crawl, he put her in the bed and covered her gunshot wounds with Band-Aids. At one point, he carried her to the bathroom, leaving behind a blood-stained blueprint of the attack.

Katrina Brownlee: This didn’t happen, like, within, like, 20 minutes or 30. This was like a long period of time that he’s torturing me and shooting me.

Five spent shell casings and one projectile were recovered at the crime scene. Over the course of an hour-and-a-half, the correction officer emptied his service revolver two times at the pregnant mother of two. 

Suffolk County Police Department

Over the course of an hour-and-a-half, the correction officer emptied his service revolver two times at the pregnant mother of two.   

Katrina Brownlee: And ultimately, he shot me 10 times.

Alex Irvin had planned for everything, says Katrina: the locked doors and windows, the cut phone line. Everything but a knock on the door.

Keri Herzog: As Katrina lay bleeding on the floor …

Keri Herzog: There was an unexpected visit by … a family friend of Katrina’s fiancé.

Keri Herzog: And upon entering the home, he looked at something which can only be described as something out of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

According to the friend’s statement to police, Alex Irvin told him, he had shot Katrina, and that he flipped out.

Irvin then led his young friend – only 20 at the time — to the bathroom. Katrina was lying face down on the bathroom floor.

Katrina Brownlee was found bleeding on the bathroom floor by a family friend of Alex Irvin’s.  The young friend, with Irvin’s help, put Katrina in the backseat of the car and drove her to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in Long Island.

Suffolk County Police Department

Panicked, the young man picked her up and carried her to the car. Irvin helped him put Katrina in the back seat. The two men headed to the hospital, with the friend driving.  

Keri Herzog: The entire way, Katrina was in and out of consciousness and he was begging her to hold on, that they were close to getting help: “Don’t go, Katrina. Don’t go.”

It was the young man who put Katrina in the wheelchair that day — her wounds still covered with Band-Aids.  

Michelle Miller: If he hadn’t come by that house –

Katrina Brownlee: Oh, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I would not be talking to you.

Katrina was rushed into surgery as soon as she got to the hospital after the attack. Multiple operations followed in the days ahead, but doctors were unable to remove six of the bullets that had entered her body, says Keri.

Keri Herzog: The placement removal could have been more dangerous to her than leaving the bullets in place.

After days of drifting in and out of consciousness, Katrina finally woke up.

Katrina Brownlee: The first thing I wanted to know: “Where was my baby that I was having? Where were my children?” That was the first thing I said.

Keri Herzog: There she was having been brutalized and her first concern was for her children. … It made me want to cry. It makes me want to cry right now.

Katrina was told her two daughters were safe and staying with a relative. Sadly, Katrina says, the baby she was carrying — a boy — didn’t make it.

Keri Herzog: Most of the injuries were concentrated between her chest and her pelvis … and it became evident that future children were — were not going to be in the cards for Katrina.

That wasn’t all, says Keri.

Keri Herzog: She was very limited in her mobility. There were concerns that she might not be able to walk again.

Katrina remembers the day the doctor delivered the grim news.

Katrina Brownlee: I said, “What? When you say that … I’m not going to walk again and never have a normal life, like, what does that mean?” And he said, “You know, you — you’re going to be confined to a wheelchair and you’ll have people that have to take care of you.” And then I said to him, “I don’t have anybody to take care of me. I’m homeless. I don’t have a place to live.” I said I didn’t have a place to live before I came here [cries].

Michelle Miller: And you’re thinking, “What am I going to do?” Was it fear, desperation at your wit’s end or all of that wrapped up into one?

Katrina Brownlee: Yeah, I mean … Now I’m really all alone. I really am rock bottom. I’m at the lowest place that I think a human being could be in at that point … Your son is murdered. You can’t take care of your children. You have nowhere to live. You have no family. It doesn’t get no worse than that. 

Alex Irvin’s mother let Katrina move into her house in Brooklyn, unoccupied at the time. Katrina had around-the-clock care and daily sessions with a speech and physical therapist, but, deeply depressed, she refused to work at her therapy. 

Keri Herzog: Katrina fell into a hole that was so deep and so wide that she couldn’t see bottom. And she couldn’t see side to side.

Then one day her physical therapist gave her hope that she would fully recover.

Katrina Brownlee: He said, “I believe something tells me that you’re going to walk again” … and I don’t know what it was that day gave me the will, gave me the hope that it would be done. And … I started from the wheelchair, then I went to the walker and then I went to a cane and then I started to walk. So that was a process.

Katrina devoted her entire being to showing the doctors she could get better. 

Michelle Miller: So, what were the things they said you couldn’t do?

Katrina Brownlee: I wasn’t going to walk again. … I wasn’t going to have a normal life again.

Michelle Miller: So, you went —  check.

Katrina Brownlee: Right. It was like check …

Michelle Miller: Check, check.

Katrina Brownlee: Check, check, check, check, check (laughs).

She also checked off another box: self-esteem.

Katrina Brownlee: I started to believe in myself. I started to build up … who I was as a person.

But the fates weren’t done with Katrina Cooke Brownlee. She was about to be tested yet again.

SURVIVAL MODE

There were many stops along the way that could have derailed Katrina Cooke Brownlee’s journey out of darkness. Katrina says that getting thrown out of Alex Irvin’s mother’s house in Brooklyn while still recovering was one of them.

Katrina Brownlee: She asked me to write a letter stating that I shot myself 10 times so that her son did not go to jail.

When Katrina refused, she says the mother booted her to the street.

Katrina Brownlee: I became even more homeless. I don’t know how much homeless you could be, but then I really became homeless.

Katrina Brownlee outside the Catherine Street shelter where she and her daughters stayed when they became homeless.

CBS News

Katrina — who by then had her two girls back — ended up in a homeless shelter on the Lower East Side of New York.

Katrina Brownlee: Rats were there, roaches was there. … It was really, really bad here. Really bad.

Michelle Miller: What is going through your head as you were looking at your two daughters?

Katrina Brownlee: I’m in survival mode. Everything for me at this point is survival.

Michelle Miller: Stay alive.

Katrina Brownlee Just stay alive.

Michelle Miller: Protect my girls.

Katrina Brownlee: Protect my girls, because I felt like I had already failed. They didn’t choose him. I chose him, you know?

Katrina says the shelter was so filthy, she wouldn’t use the bathroom.

Katrina Brownlee: I remember putting my youngest daughter in the sink in McDonald’s … to bathe her. And me, as a grown woman, having to wash up in — at a sink (sighs).

While Katrina and her girls were struggling to survive, Keri Herzog was methodically building a strong case against Alex Irvin.

Keri Herzog: I was going to do everything in my power to bring justice to Katrina. … I fought for her tooth and nail.

“I was going to do everything in my power to bring justice to Katrina,” said Assistant District Attorney Keri Herzog.

CBS News

But Katrina, who had been cooperating with the prosecution, started backing away. Keri discovered that Alex Irvin – against court orders — had been calling and threatening Katrina from jail.

Keri Herzog: I wanted to rain down on him with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. The arrogance for him to be having this conversation with her from inside the jail was outrageous … he needs to pay.

But then the defense presented a letter to the judge purportedly written by Katrina herself. 

Keri Herzog (reading the letter): “I, Katrina Cooke, the victim in this case, has decided that I don’t want to press charges due to duress at the time of my accident.” … This is a woman who had been shot 10 times and here she’s portraying it as an accident.

Keri Herzog (reading the letter): And then the icing on the cake, “If I am subpoenaed to court, I will testify on the defendant’s behalf.”

Keri Herzog: I was horrified. But I wasn’t necessarily surprised. … Katrina had already been placed in the position of nearly seeing her life ended. If she showed any cooperation with me or the court — it could be worse for her.

Years later, Katrina would tell Keri she did not write that letter, but, at the time, Keri was convinced she had. She got Katrina on the phone.  

Keri Herzog: She said,” I’m not coming in. I’m not going to talk about it. In fact, I’m going to disappear and you’re never going to find me.” … Rage was starting to build up inside of me. … I let out this bellow and said, “Katrina, I will hunt you down like a dog if I have to.”

Keri Herzog: And then she hung up on me.

Despite issuing a subpoena, Keri didn’t expect Katrina to appear in court. But even without her star witness, Keri believed she would win a conviction.

In April 1994 – one year and three months after the attack – jury selection began. They were on day four when suddenly the courtroom door flew open.

Keri Herzog: I turn around and I — I see her. She’s in a brightly colored dress, and her presence that day actually made me gasp out loud. I never, ever expected her to appear. … But there she was.

Katrina Brownlee: I had decided that …  I’m going to walk in this courtroom and whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.  … I didn’t even look at him … I wasn’t giving him that power ’cause at that point I had got back my power and got back my control. So, I wasn’t even going to look at him. He didn’t even matter to me.

Keri Herzog: I think that the defendant saw the whites of her eyes that day and knew that the game was over … And she was going to do whatever she needed to do to take him down.

Keri Herzog: She was back. … She was back with a vengeance. 

Soon After, Alex Irvin pleaded guilty to all charges: attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first degree, and criminal use of a firearm. There would be no trial. His sentence was now in the hands of the judge.

Keri Herzog: I was very angry that he took the plea.

Katrina Brownlee: She was more angry I think (laughs) than I was … She lost her mind … I was calming her down because I told her, I said, “I’ve been through this already. Ain’t nothing going to happen to him. He got that shield. Is nothing going to happen to him.”

Keri made an impassioned plea to the judge to give the man who shot and tortured Katrina a minimum of 20 years behitnd bars; but the judge didn’t heed Keri’s pleas. He gave Alex Irvin the lightest sentence possible: five to 15 years. 

Keri Herzog: After hearing that it was almost a blind fury that took over me.

Keri Herzog: I gathered up my belongings and returned to my office. And I kicked my garbage can from one end of the office to the other. And I actually kept that garbage can for the rest of my career with this huge dent in its side.

Keri couldn’t deliver the sentence they both wanted, but she did deliver something perhaps even more important.

Katrina Brownlee: Nobody ever cared enough to fight for me.

Katrina Brownlee: She fought for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. … She gave me hope when I didn’t have hope for myself.

Katrina Brownlee: I’m grateful to her.

JOINING NY’S FINEST

With her ex-fiancé and would-be killer in prison, Katrina Cooke Brownlee focused on her future — a future that included a job at a very unlikely place: the New York City Police Department.

Michelle Miller: So, the … criminal justice system failed you.

Katrina Brownlee: They failed me.

Michelle Miller: And then you go and enter —

Katrina Brownlee: The criminal justice system. Yeah.

Michelle Miller: That was logical for you.

Katrina Brownlee: Yeah. I was like, “Nope, I’m doing it.”

Keri Herzog: You could have knocked me over with a feather.

No one was more surprised than Katrina’s former advocate and now-friend, Keri Herzog.

Keri Herzog: Katrina and I actually talked about why she would join the police department. And one of the things she mentioned, that, you know, the best way to change a system is from the inside out. 

A system that Katrina says repeatedly turned its back on her when she’d call 911 after being beaten in the years before she was shot. Katrina wanted to become what she says she needed all those years ago: a good cop.

Katrina Brownlee: Why not? Why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I want to help protect and serve? Just because I didn’t receive it, it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t want to help others.

Katrina Brownlee decided to pursue a career at an unlikely place: the New York City Police Department. In July 2001, she joined the Police Academy. As a police officer, Katrina channeled her energy into helping others get the support she never had.

Katrina Brownlee

In July 2001 – eight-and-a-half years after her brutal attack – Katrina was one of 1,600 new recruits sworn in at the NYPD’s Police Academy. They would go on to be known as the 9/11 Class, when, just two months into training, Katrina and her fellow police cadets became first responders on September 11.

Katrina Brownlee: That was like one of the times where I was like, maybe I don’t think I can do this.

Katrina Brownlee: I pushed through it because … the other people that was in the academy also, you know, we all was feeling the same. And I think we just basically was going off of each other’s strength.

As Katrina started a new life within the criminal justice system, Alex Irvin, the correction officer-turned-convict, was released from prison after serving 10 years. Keri recalls Katrina’s reaction.

Keri Herzog: It was almost a sigh of resignation when the time finally came up.

Katrina Brownlee: I was at the beginning of my career, and I wanted to really just put the energy into that and not into him coming out.

In the NYPD, Katrina Brownlee served in many different roles. In December 2003, she joined the narcotics unit and started working undercover. She took on this cigar-smoking drug-addict persona to catch drug dealers on the streets of Brooklyn and Queens.

Katrina Brownlee

From the start, Katrina sought out a tough assignment: going undercover in Brooklyn and Queens — even adopting a cigar-smoking persona to catch drug dealers.

Katrina Brownlee: Anything that entailed undercover, I did it.

Michelle Miller: Anything?

Katrina Brownlee: Anything.

Michelle Miller: So, it put you in some dangerous situations?

Katrina Brownlee: Oh, absolutely.

Keri Herzog: I asked myself, “Why would someone who’s been through what Katrina has been through put herself into that situation?” And then I think, “What can anyone do to scare her at this stage of her life?” … She was right at death’s door and came through.

Katrina Brownlee (walking down a street): Right now, we are on … a strip that I used to work on when I was in Vice doing undercover work, and this was kind of like home for me many a-days, many a-night.

Though the mission was to arrest pimps and those soliciting prostitution, Katrina felt a connection to the women she encountered.

Katrina Brownlee: Being out there in the streets … I realized that each and every one of these young ladies were — were me in some form or fashion. … It allowed me to realize how … it was important for me to … do my work to the best of my ability while I was out there.

In 2011, Katrina Brownlee moved to the Community Affairs office where she says she was able to give back to the community. “For me, growing up, I lived in a neighborhood that was forgotten. And I just felt that I had so much that I could give back,” she told “48 Hours.”

Katrina Brownlee

After ­­­­five hard years working undercover on the streets, Katrina took to the streets again as a community affairs officer.

Katrina Brownlee: I just felt that I had so much that I could give back being a police officer.

Despite being the good cop she had always wanted to be, Katrina worried that the secret of her past would hurt her career.

Michelle Miller: So, you’re on your dream job, you’re doing a great job, and yet you’re living with always the fear of being discovered —

Katrina Brownlee: Correct.

Michelle Miller: — your past —

Katrina Brownlee: My past.

Michelle Miller:  — coming back to haunt you.

Katrina Brownlee: Yep. Every single day I went to work, I always thought that.

Michelle Miller: You never shared this secret?

Katrina Brownlee: Nope. … It was painful not to be able to.

Painful, because Katrina believes that the trauma she suffered would have made some at the NYPD question if she was fit to serve.

Katrina Brownlee: (impassioned): “I don’t want her on this job. She’s a domestic violence — she may go off and kill somebody. She might not be mentally stable.”

Though still in fear of being outed, Katrina forged ahead, becoming a Detective First-Grade – the NYPD’s highest investigative rank.

Katrina Brownlee: It wasn’t many women that were first-grade detectives.

Keri Herzog: No one handed anything to Katrina. What Katrina has done, she has earned.

Keri Herzog: It’s still amazing to me now to think about the progress that she made and not — not just progress, success. 

Keri Herzog: She and I have talked about it that success is the best revenge.

And Katrina wasn’t done yet.

UNBURDENED

Katrina Brownlee: Never, ever, ever, ever give up on yourself. I don’t care who’s against you. Believe in yourself.

Katrina Cooke Brownlee had spent a lifetime defying the odds: climbing out of poverty, surviving a near fatal attack, walking after believing she would never walk again.  And in the final years of her NYPD career, she would buck the odds once again.

Michelle Miller: When you were growin’ up in Brooklyn, had you— did you ever expect you would be working at the mayor’s mansion?

Katrina Brownlee: No. Never. … Not even — even remotely close.

Katrina Brownlee rose to the  NYPD’s highest investigative rank. She finished her career as an elite member of the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s security detail – one of the few Black women in NYPD history to do so.

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In 2014, Katrina became one of the few Black women in NYPD history assigned to protect a New York City mayor when she was chosen to serve on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s advance security detail.

Michelle Miller: You’re just one step ahead?

Katrina Brownlee: I’m just one step ahead. If — if I’m walkin’ into a ditch, he’s gonna follow me into that ditch, right? If I’m walkin’ into the sunset, he comin’ in that sunset.

In 2021, after 20 years on the force, Katrina retired from the NYPD. In her last meeting with the mayor, she finally opened up about something she had been hiding for decades: her past.

Katrina Brownlee: And I said, “Well, Mr. Mayor, I wrote a book.” … And … he said, “well, what is the book about?” And I said, “Well, Mr. Mayor, I got shot 10 times.” … And he took a deep breath, and he was like, “but you never said anything.” And I said, it wasn’t — “I wasn’t supposed to.”

Keri Herzog: She was carrying around a secret. And now she has been unburdened.

Michelle Miller: I think people looking at you would never have an inkling … that you have lived the life you’ve lived.

Katrina Brownlee: I often wonder and ask myself that, “Do I look like this has happened to me?” you know. And … I have scars, right? … So, for a long time, the scars used to bother me, so … I put tattoos on my stomach so that, when I looked in the mirror when I’m getting dressed, I didn’t see it.

In 2021, after 20 years on the force, Katrina Brownlee retired from the NYPD. Her friend and former advocate Keri Herzog is pictured center right.

Katrina Brownlee

Michelle Miller: if I may be so bold to ask, what are your tattoos?

Katrina Brownlee: Roses. Just a bunch of roses — yeah, flowers.

Michelle Miller: Wow. 

Katrina Brownlee: Because that’s what I feel like that’s what I became.

Katrina has also found a way to let go of the emotional scars.

Katrina Brownlee: In spite of everything that has happened to me, right? I forgive. I forgive.

Michelle Miller: You forgave your assailant.

Katrina Brownlee: Absolutely.

Michelle Miller: Your abuser.

Katrina Brownlee: Yeah. I had to. I had to forgive him so I can get back my control so I can get back my power and so that I can have a peace within myself. There’s no peace when you harbor in anger, when you’re mad. There’s no peace in that.

“48 Hours” went back with Katrina to the projects where she had grown up.

MICHELLE MILLER: You remember Katrina?

MAN: When she was young. Yes, I remember her.

MAN: I remember when you was growing up with your grandmother. That’s Trina (he points out to a woman). You remember Trina?

She has moved away, but not so far that she has forgotten all the other Katrinas who are now where she once was.

Michelle Miller: What’s next for you?

Katrina Brownlee: Just to tell my story … And to continue to work on my organization with my girls, Young Ladies of Our Future.

Katrina’s organization has been mentoring young ladies for the past 10 years. 

Michelle Miller: You don’t want any other girl or woman –

Katrina Brownlee: — to ever, ever, ever have to go through 5% of what I went through.

Katrina Brownlee: If you build and you teach and give young people these tools, you save them every single time.

Keri Herzog: She has that helping gene in her. She is offering help that surpasses what she had.

“Today, I feel like I am a beautiful Black queen that fought the fight,” says Katrina Brownlee. 

CBS News

Michelle Miller: How does the Katrina sitting here today differ from that 22-year-old old Katrina?

Katrina Brownlee: Oh, wow. The 22-year-old Katrina was lost, broken … forgotten, violated. … At the lowest point … that a person can be. And now today, I feel like I am a beautiful Black queen that fought the fight.

Katrina has just finished a book about her life that she’s calling, “And Then Came the Blues.”

 


Produced by Liza Finley and Lauren A. White. Diana Modica, Doreen Schechter, Marcus Balsam, Joan Adelman and Michelle Harris are the editors. Morgan Canty is the associate producer. Peter Schweitzer and Nancy Kramer are the senior producers. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.



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