San Diego Eric Abrams has been called many things. In December 1991, Parade magazine named him "National High School Football Player of the Year." In November 1994, Stanford coach Bill Walsh said Abrams was his "adorable little place-kicker." Last week a Santa Clara County Municipal Court judge called Eric Abrams "a danger to public safety and to the community."
Kim Brown, who met Abrams only briefly, is more to the point. She calls him "cunning."
It's difficult to imagine two more different individuals. Brown is a 37-year-old single mother of two sons who works as a teacher's assistant in the Bayview district south of downtown San Francisco, where she's lived most of her life. Abrams, 24, the son of a doctor and a lawyer, was raised in University City and attended La Jolla Country Day School, where he received national attention as a place-kicker. Dozens of stories about his "promising future" appeared in the Union-Tribune and in sports sections across the country. He attended Stanford on a football scholarship, played under the (in)famous Bill Walsh, and studied psychology. But after he graduated in 1995, when many people wondered if he would make it to the nfl, Abrams was already on his way to encountering Kim Brown.
In March 1996, Abrams showed the world that he was passionate about more than just football. He pleaded no contest in Palo Alto Municipal Court to seven misdemeanor counts of what court records describe as "phone harassment." Abrams admitted that while posing as a Stanford football scout he had called seven teenage boys to persuade them to send him nude photos under the guise of recruiting them for athletic scholarships. Although Abrams's attorney described these calls as "pranks," the boys' mothers did not think Abrams was very funny. The court didn't either. Abrams was fined $200, sentenced to three years' probation, 100 hours of community service, and ordered to seek psychiatric treatment.
"Apparently this sort of thing is treatable," Abrams's attorney said.
Kim Brown doesn't agree.
On Tuesday, April 14, at 4:20 p.m. Brown was coming home from work when she saw her two sons, 11 and 13 years old, talking to a young white man in a white Buick rental car.
"Our neighborhood's predominately black, but we've got everything in it," Brown explains, "Asian, Hispanic. There are even some white people on our block. So the fact that he was white didn't make him stand out at first. It was the car. It looked a lot like an unmarked police car.
"So, as I drive up, he looks at me and he drives off. I asked my boys, 'What did he want with y'all?' And my oldest tells me that this man had told him to get in his car, that he wanted him to get in the car and write his name and address down on a piece of paper. I knew then that something strange was going on, and I was determined to find out what had happened. I told my boys to get in the car, and we followed him.
"I could see that he was getting ready to head downtown, and when he stopped at a light I pulled up beside him and rolled down my window and asked him what he was doing, talking to my sons. And he tells me he thought my sons were dealing drugs. He says he was the police, and he flashes this badge at me. I asked him, 'Tell me what they were doing that made you think that they were selling drugs.'
"That, you see, was his first big mistake. I know my sons, and I know how I have raised them, and I know my sons are not involved in drugs. Now, that may not be true for every mother, or even for every mother on our block. But I have worked hard at raising my two sons, at teaching them to do what's right, to go to school, to study, and I know them.
"So then he makes his second big mistake. In answer to my question, he says, 'Your sons are innocent and that's all you need to know.'
"And he said it real dismissive. Now, I don't like being talked down to. And I don't like anyone telling me what I need to know. Especially not someone who's just told me he thought my sons were dealing drugs. Abrams may have thought he had it all planned out. He may have thought, 'Well, black kids sell drugs; their mothers don't care; if I get caught I'll just use that line and everyone will believe me.'
"But he didn't count on me. If someone says they so much as think my sons are selling drugs, I'm gonna find out why. And when he answered me, telling me that all I needed to know was that my sons were innocent, I started to get angry.
"I said, 'I'm gonna need your name and badge number because I'm gonna find out what's going on here.' And he says, 'My name's Harry Thomson. They all know me at the station.' And he drives off.
"Now, I'm really determined to find out what's going on. I followed him."
Brown followed Abrams for several miles, on surface streets, on the freeway, "Never," she says, "driving recklessly or too fast. I had my two kids with me. I followed just close enough behind him so that he could see that I was following him. I could see him glancing back at me through his rearview mirror, and I just stared right back at him to let him know, 'Yes, I'm following you.' All the while I'm talking to my sons, asking them to tell me the truth, to tell me what happened. They swore to me they weren't doing anything. They were just walking down the street when he drove up. And I was thinking about that badge he showed me. I am a mother and have bought enough toys in my life to know what silver plastic looks like, and that badge just didn't look real."