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Wednesday, July 16, 2008 - Page updated at 01:09 PM

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Mother: Brian Keith Brown was trying to help

The mother of Brian Keith Brown, the Renton man who is wanted by police in the death of a Rainier Beach man during a confrontation at a traffic circle a week ago, says her son tries to avoid violence.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Brian Keith Brown has been charged with murder.

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Brian Keith Brown has been charged with murder.

The mother of the suspect in the death of a Rainier Beach man during a confrontation at a traffic circle a week ago said her son was coming to the aid of three girls who he believed had been assaulted by the victim.

Brian Keith Brown knocked James Paroline, 60, to the ground with a single punch last Wednesday night after he intervened in a dispute Paroline was having with the girls, authorities said. Paroline, a retiree who was tending the flowers inside the traffic circle, died the next day. Brown, who has a criminal history that includes two convictions for third-degree assault, was charged Monday with second-degree murder in Paroline's death. A $500,000 warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Brown, 28, called his mother shortly after the attack and told her he had punched Paroline to defend one of the teenage girls, who is a relative of his girlfriend, said Brenda Battiste, of Sacramento, Calif.

The girls confronted Paroline about several traffic cones he had set up in the street near the traffic circle at South Cooper Street and 61st Avenue South while he was gardening. A video of the attack, shot by an unidentified neighbor and reviewed by police, showed Paroline attempting to ignore the girls, charging papers said. One threw a jug of water at Paroline, the charging papers say.

The girls can be heard on the video claiming that Paroline had squirted them with water and had assaulted one of them. However, that cannot be seen on the video, charging papers said.

While several neighbors said they never saw Paroline strike the girls, one witness, Stedman Tauala, 12, said he saw Paroline slap and push one of the girls.

After the confrontation, one of the girls found Brown at a friend's house down the street from the traffic circle and told him the man had just struck them, Battiste said. Brown and a friend jumped in a car and drove to the traffic circle, Battiste said.

Battiste said her son told her Paroline "was jumping onto the girls."

"He said he'd gotten into a fight and knocked a man out," Battiste said. "He asked [Paroline] why was he picking on teenage girls, and why doesn't he fight a man?"

Charging papers said it appeared Paroline was not attempting to defend himself when confronted by Brown. "Paroline's hands were at his side at the time the punch was delivered, and he was not in an offensive or defensive stance," according to charging papers.

Seattle police spokesman Mark Jamieson said there is no evidence that the three teenage girls were assaulted by Paroline. The girls, whose identities haven't been released by police, were questioned and released.

Battiste said she has called her son's cellphone repeatedly since hearing that Paroline died, but the calls have gone to voice mail. Battiste said her son's friends who have spoken with him since Paroline's death tell her that Brown is "very remorseful."

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Battiste said she hopes her son will turn himself in to police because "that's the right thing to do."

She said Brown was the sweetest of her three sons and often shied away from fighting, even while squabbling with his siblings when he was a child. Battiste said Brown was born in California but moved to the Seattle area as a child to live with foster parents while she was in prison for bank robbery.

Battiste acknowledges Brown's prior convictions for assault and obstructing a law-enforcement officer but says that in many of those cases he was defending someone else. She said he tried to avoid violence.

Brown pleaded guilty to assault in 2005 and was sentenced to four months in jail after he attacked a woman in her Renton apartment. The victim said Brown choked and head-butted her after Brown and his girlfriend showed up at the woman's apartment, according to court charging papers. He also has been convicted of drug possession, theft and criminal trespassing.

Shewanda Coleman, the mother of Brown's 7-year-old son, describes Brown as "a sweetheart."

"He tries to do everything to help everybody," said Coleman, of Seattle. "This is just not of his nature. I know he had to do this to help — that's the only reason he would hit somebody."

Battiste, Coleman and two other friends of Brown said Tuesday they did not know his whereabouts.

Brown is described as black, about 5-foot-10 and about 160 pounds. He has black, shoulder-length, braided hair and brown eyes.

Tuesday night, more than 230 people gathered for a community meeting at a Rainier Beach church to hear an update on the police investigation.

As police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, three city councilmen, two state legislators and members of Paroline's family listened, Rainier Beach residents debated solutions to crime and demanded more policing in their neighborhood.

Cindy Hess said she was installing a security system during her ongoing house remodel in part because police had failed to respond to a trio of early-morning 911 calls about a recent break-in at a neighbor's home.

"I shouldn't have to think at 3:30 in the morning about locking and loading my gun and getting all vigilante," said Hess, 46, who has lived in the neighborhood 12 years. "I shouldn't have to live in a so-called white neighborhood to feel safe."

One woman stood to say she knew Brown, and that he didn't intend to kill Paroline.

When she suggested the three teenage girls were also victims, the crowd mocked her. "You're delusional, babe," said the man sitting next to her.

Times staff reporter Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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