Taking His Medicine

Troubled hand surgeon Michael Brown pursues custody of his two children

At 30, Rachel, like Darlina, was considerably younger than Brown. And both have accused the doctor of threatening their lives.

On the night of February 22, 2003, Houston police received an emergency call from Rachel saying that Brown told her he was going to kill her.

According to testimony, Rachel and her sister had gone to the Houston Rodeo that night and had had too much to drink. When they returned home in a taxi, Rachel argued with her husband, then the two women took the cab to a gas station to call 911.

Darlina Brown (shown with her children in this 2002 
photo) retains sole custody.
Deron Neblett
Darlina Brown (shown with her children in this 2002 photo) retains sole custody.
Brown's commercial tells viewers they'll be treated like 
Brown's commercial tells viewers they'll be treated like family.

Both Brown and Rachel chalked up the night to Rachel having too much to drink, Michael being a bit out of sorts due to sleeping medication, and gross misunderstanding.

"He's a very loving man," Rachel testified. "He's romantic. He's a wonderful man. The best man I've ever met."

Officer David Giannavola said he and other police responded to Brown's Memorial area home that night but were stopped by the closed electric gates until Brown buzzed them in. After taking statements, police escorted Brown to a hotel.

Rachel says she apologized to her husband and let him back in the next day. A few weeks later, she filed for divorce. A few weeks after that, she withdrew it.

While Rachel later dismissed the call to police as unwarranted, Giannavola remained skeptical. He testified that after officers were admitted onto the grounds, he saw a gold Nissan Sentra with smashed windows and a Mercedes-Benz splattered with purple paint. Brown didn't mention the cars to the officers. Giannavola said he suspected Brown was responsible, but had no proof.

The doctor testified that Rachel's sister had just separated from her husband, who had rung the gate buzzer that night. Brown said he didn't let the man in and that when he awoke later that evening, he discovered the vandalized vehicles. He didn't report it to the police because the man was family, Brown testified. Instead, he ignored the mess and went back to bed.

Giannavola was asked by Brown's attorneys if Brown's explanation was plausible. "If three police officers couldn't get in," the witness said, "I don't see how someone else could've gotten in without burglary."

The biggest issue in the trial, of course, was not a trashed car or two, but the allegations of neglect and abuse. Darlina testified in detail that she was an attentive mother who put her children first in her life and cared for them deeply.

For the past three years, Brown had used his supervised weekend visitations to photograph every blemish on the two girls' bodies to build his case. Most troubling was one child's swollen labium -- which Brown's lawyers put on a video display screen. They didn't mention the fact that the picture was taken after an abscess was drained.

One of Brown's expert witnesses was Dr. Margaret McNeese, a pediatrician and child-abuse expert with the University of Texas-Houston Medical School. Based on photographs and partial medical records provided to her by Brown's attorneys, McNeese testified that the children were neglected and had unexplainable injuries. These included five bruises on one child between November 2001 and December 2003. McNeese also testified that she never met or interviewed the children or Darlina.

McNeese also testified that the inflamed labium appeared to be the result of a urinary tract infection, a condition the child's primary physician had never diagnosed. However, the primary physician testified that the girl had several "URIs," or upper-respiratory infections. Darlina's attorneys, David Brown (no relation) and Steve Jackson, believe McNeese misinterpreted "UTI" -- urinary tract infection -- as "URI."

Darlina explained to jurors that an insect bite, not neglect, was responsible for the abscess and later inflammation. The primary physician for the children, Dr. Carl Karr, had dealt with abused children earlier in his career. He testified that there was no indication that Darlina's girls had been molested. And Karr said Darlina was a responsible mother -- that any of the children's medical problems were not caused by neglect.

Brown's lawyers also aimed to prove that Darlina danced topless on at least one occasion at Rick's Cabaret North. James, whose office is in Conroe, contrasted the adult entertainment of Rick's with the conservative environs of Montgomery County, noting that there's "not one naked go-go place in the whole dang county."

James called a patron and a manager of Rick's Cabaret North to testify that they saw Darlina dance topless in early 2002. The patron, salesman Harold Lowe, testified that he had met Darlina once before and that he also was friends with the husband of Brown's office manager.

Darlina testified that she and some friends once had drinks at Rick's, and that they danced -- completely clothed -- on the stage on a lark.

Despite James' attempts to brand Darlina as a promiscuous, godless, bisexual topless dancer whose boyfriends may have sexually abused her daughters, the jury ruled otherwise. In a verdict returned after a day of deliberation, they chose not to give Brown sole custody. Midway through deliberations, they had asked Judge Michael Mayes to provide them with a copy of Rachel Brown's 911 call the night of February 21, 2002.

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