Say Their Name: The Story of Danny Ray Thomas
Disclaimer: In our exclusive series, Say Their Name, DCP Entertainment takes a deeper look into the impact of the assault and killing of unarmed Black people by the police and in ‘Stand Your Ground’ states. We share the stories of families who have been negatively impacted by these situations, as well as memorialize the lives of the individuals who were victimized. We did not talk to officers or governing bodies—just the families and their support systems. We are not the court of law, nor do we try to be. For legal purposes we are not here to presume guilt or innocence for anyone, because, quite frankly, we do not want to be sued. We simply want to give the families a voice while examining what happens when the hashtags stop and the news unfortunately moves on to the next big story. All we want is to give the families the opportunity to control their narrative and share ways we can all help. While also raising money for the families highlighted in the series.
Marketta Thomas regularly passes the spot where her brother, Danny Ray Thomas, was killed by Deputy Sheriff Cameron Brewer in March of 2018. It’s just a few blocks from her home in Houston.
The day he was shot, Danny was having a mental health crisis. Yet not only didn’t Deputy Brewer respond appropriately to a man who clearly needed help, Marketta believes his decision to shoot her brother was premeditated.
“He [Deputy Brewer] had already had his weapon drawn. And…when he got out of the car, he knew what his intentions were. Not to save a life, but to take one. And that’s exactly what he did, and nothing happened to him.”
Marketta and Danny grew up in Houston. Born just 13 months apart, Marketta says they felt like—and were often mistaken for—twins. She describes Danny as a “brother, best friend, and father figure” all in one.
“We looked out for each other, always,” says Marketta.
Marketta, Danny, and their two younger siblings lost their mother to AIDS in 1996. Marketta and Danny were just 12 and 13 at the time. Their dad was incarcerated, so the kids stayed with their maternal grandmother in the Acres Home neighborhood of Houston after their mom passed.
Living with their grandmother and her husband was tense and uncomfortable.
“We didn’t know how they lived, how they treated each other, none of that. So, it was just stepping into a whole new world from what we’re used to with our mom. And the way our mom took care of us, they didn’t,” Marketta recalls.
Marketta and her siblings didn’t know their maternal grandmother at all before their mom got sick, and Marketta says her grandparents were never supportive or encouraging.
So Marketta and Danny immersed themselves in sports, their common passion. “Growing up, we both wanted to be in the WNBA and the NBA. Because basketball…gave us something to take our mind off of. It was like an escape. So that’s what we always thought we will be doing when we grow up.”
But without support from adult figures at home and at school, Marketta and Danny struggled.
For a time, they were homeless, living in vacant apartments around Houston. Both dropped out of high school—Danny in his senior year, just months away from graduation, and Marketta in her junior year.
“We just didn’t have that structure. You know what I mean? That discipline. That adult in our life to be like, ‘No. I know you went through this in your childhood. I know this happened to you [losing your mother], but what happened to you is not going to determine your future…’ Survival, that’s all it was for us.”
Danny had another reason for dropping out—his high school girlfriend was pregnant, and he needed to make money.
As the years went on, Danny did what he needed to do to survive. Eventually he married the woman with whom he would have his two youngest children—first a boy, then a girl. He was incarcerated at the time, but Marketta says this relationship seemed different. Danny was embracing his role as a dad and a family man. He was eager to serve his time and make things right with his wife.
But it wouldn’t be long before Danny faced another tragedy. While he was incarcerated, his wife drowned their two children, ages 5 and 7, and buried them outside their home before police discovered the bodies.
The day before it happened, Danny called Marketta from jail and asked her to check on his wife and kids. He knew something was wrong.
Marketta called Danny’s wife and offered to take the kids for a while. Danny’s wife refused. Marketta learned from her cousin that Danny’s wife had called Child Protective Services the day before the murders, pleading with the agency to take her kids and saying they weren’t safe with her. The agency dismissed her warning.
After Danny learned of his kids’ deaths he was devastated. The prison staff put him on suicide watch. He felt powerless and blamed himself.
Unable to comfort her brother like she had always done, Marketta felt powerless, too.
Because her brother was incarcerated, Marketta had to make funeral arrangements for her niece and nephew. Danny got approval from the prison to attend the funeral. But the indignity of being handcuffed at the service and denied a final viewing of his children was extremely painful.
Two months after the murders, Danny was released from jail. He stayed with Marketta and her husband for a couple months. “When he got out, I could tell he was different.” Marketta, who struggled with depression and anxiety, could see the same warning signs in her brother.
Danny wasn’t getting the psychological help he needed, and Marketta feared what might happen to her brother.
On March 22, 2018, Danny Ray Thomas was killed at the age of 34 by Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Cameron Brewer. Danny was having a manic episode around the corner from his north Houston home.
Marketta remembers getting the phone call that her brother had been shot. She rushed to the scene.
“And when I get there, it’s just a whole scene, yellow tape and police is everywhere. And all I’m doing is I’m looking for my brother. Where is my brother? And then…somebody comes up to me like, ‘He didn't make it.’…And I just totally just broke down, totally broke down.”
Before the shooting Danny had been having an argument with another man at the corner of Imperial Valley and Greens Road. Then Sheriff Deputy Brewer arrived and intervened. As Danny shuffled toward the deputy, with his pants around his ankles, hands empty at his sides, and less than 30 seconds after Deputy Brewer arrived, he shot Danny once in the abdomen.
Marketta says losing one of her siblings—especially Danny—was her worst fear.
“Still to this day, I don’t believe it. I tell myself every day, ‘You’re not gone’…And that was the one person that I always called about everything. So, I have nobody to lean on. There’s nobody in my life right now. Not even my husband, that I feel close enough to, like I did with my brother.”
As with her slain niece and nephew, Marketta struggled with the overwhelming emotional toll and financial hardship of laying her brother to rest. And she struggled with the senselessness of what happened to Danny.
Danny had had a similar mental health crisis in the past. Only that time, she says, the officers who responded tried to help Danny. They didn’t even handcuff him, Marketta says. She can’t make sense of why Deputy Brewer didn’t respond the same way—especially considering that Danny had no weapon and was clearly having a mental health crisis.
“You could have pepper sprayed him,” Marketta says. “You could have used the baton on him, for crying out loud, come on.”
Marketta didn’t get justice in court, either. She describes the prosecutor—the person who was supposed to be defending Danny—as launching a “character assassination” against her brother, falsely describing him as a gang member and a violent aggressor. She says the prosecutor failed to present pertinent information about Danny, including his mental health struggles, the loss of his children, or his previous encounters with police. And she describes how the DA failed to gather any real evidence to indict Deputy Brewer.
Marketta believes it was all part of a plan to ultimately exonerate Brewer, despite his use of excessive force and failure to follow proper protocols.
And that’s exactly what happened. While Deputy Brewer was fired a few days after killing Danny, he wasn’t indicted for close to a year.
And on August 8th, 2019, a year after killing Danny Ray Thomas, Sheriff Deputy Cameron Brewer was acquitted of aggravated assault. He has since been reinstated and even gotten a book deal.
“I honestly don’t believe in the Texas justice system at all…I feel they let my brother down. They let his kids down. They weren’t there to represent my family. Even though they prosecuted [Deputy Brewer], I still felt like they were trying to defend him because they all work together. Defense, prosecutors, judges, y’all work together.”
Marketta believes that if law enforcement officers were properly trained to deal with mental health crises, her brother might still be alive today.
In 2019, she appeared in an NBC Left Field Documentary called A Different Kind of Force—Policing Mental Illness. The program was created to shine a light on police shootings involving unarmed individuals in a mental health crisis. Danny’s story was one of them. And Marketta was the one who spoke on his behalf.
“We all need to be treated with respect. All our families need their loved ones to come home. Nobody’s family deserves to die at the hands of anybody unjustified.”
Danny’s story illustrates failures at every level of society, from the homelessness he and his sister faced as teenagers to the ignored cries for mental health assistance by Danny and his wife. The system is deeply broken, and the fight for justice rages on.
Danny Ray Thomas’s life mattered. We must never stop saying his name.
This is just a snapshot of Danny’s story. Hear the full account from his sister, Marketta Thomas, at https://www.dcpofficial.com/danny-ray-thomas.
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