Only on 12: Man slapped with felony in Operation Smoke Screen cleared because of 'angel' on arm

By: Chris Thomas Email
By: Chris Thomas Email
Darnell Brown was arrested during a big Augusta bust called Operation Smoke Screen, but now his name has been cleared. (WRDW-TV)

Darnell Brown was arrested during a big Augusta bust called Operation Smoke Screen, but now his name has been cleared. (WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He was arrested during a big Augusta bust called Operation Smoke Screen, but now his name has been cleared. He says an angel saved him ... an angel on his arm.

It all started before daylight. A stream of burglary suspects were arrested in a major Augusta sting called Operation Smoke Screen back in February.

"For them to come in here and grab him for something illegal," said Katrina Hollis, "I went into a tailspin."

Hollis' son, Darnell Brown, was one of dozens arrested on felony burglary charges and was locked away for four days.

"He was locked up," Hollis said. "But I was in my own prison here."

"It felt like a movie at the time because you have cops coming in with guns," Brown said. "You got my little sister getting ready for school."

Brown and his 10-year-old sister are inseparable.

"My daughter," Hollis said, "she had nightmares."

The nightmare recently took a positive turn with a notice from the District Attorney's office declaring there is "no longer sufficient evidence to prove guilt."

There was also video of the suspect. Brown fit the description.

"Anybody in Augusta can fit that description," he said. "Tall, black, with dreads."

But there was one thing missing in the video. The suspect did not have tattoo. Hollis says Brown has had a tattoo since he was 16 years old.

It was a tattoo that Mom fought. Brown is a high school graduate and man of the house. He was mostly raised by his grandmother, Mary. When she passed away, he begged for a tattoo.

"He said Mom, 'I want an angel, and I want Mary under it.'" recalled Hollis. "I gave in, and that tattoo, to me, saved this whole situation. I feel like my son would be in jail to this day if it was not for that tattoo. She is looking down from heaven. She is still taking care of her boy."

So what does Hollis think about the major roundups?

"I don't want them to stop. I appreciate them, but do all of the homework," she said. "Don't just round everybody up like a fishnet and whatever you get, you keep that."

The family can't help thinking this could have happened to anyone.

"How many parents have just accepted it because the cops say, OK we were wrong, and they move on," Hollis said. "I'm not a parent who accepts a mistake like that."

The family attorney has put together a four-page letter to city leaders.

The Richmond County Sheriff's Office says they want to review this case and will comment early next week.

Brown, 21, was 20 years old at the time of his arrest.

Stay with News 12 for updates on this case.

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