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In south Placer County, a community mourns a vagabond son

In this family photo, Brandon Millard is shown with family members. He was fatally shot by police Oct. 25 in a McDonald’s parking lot in downtown Lincoln, reportedly armed with a knife. He was remembered at a memorial Saturday as kind, sweet and gentle.
In this family photo, Brandon Millard is shown with family members. He was fatally shot by police Oct. 25 in a McDonald’s parking lot in downtown Lincoln, reportedly armed with a knife. He was remembered at a memorial Saturday as kind, sweet and gentle. Millard family photo

Brandon Millard died in violence a month ago, shot by a Lincoln police officer in a McDonald’s parking lot as Millard reportedly advanced aggressively on the officer with a knife in his hand.

But, at a memorial service Saturday in a modest church in a warehouse district a few blocks away, person after person described a quirky but sweet man who did odd jobs and was well known and cared for by more than a few in the community.

Millard, a Placer native and Lincoln High School graduate, was a vagabond who slept on friends’ couches, suffered lately from depression and, at age 37, had never come up with a plan for his life, his sister said.

The morning of his death on Oct. 25, Millard recorded an angry, profane Facebook video rant, saying he had been attacked by two people, fought them off with a pellet gun, and blamed the police for not coming to his aid. His message that morning suggested further drama. “It's going down,” he wrote. He concluded his video by saying, “The cops ain’t pulling me over.”

Donna Nakasone, the minister’s wife at Foothill Bible Church, said that’s not the man who had done odd jobs for her family, who showered and ate at her home, and who was baptized into their church a few years ago.

“That’s not him,” Nakasone said. “Brandon was kind, sweet and gentle. Our family felt safe around him.”

“It kind of took us off guard what happened to him,” minister Verne Nakasone said.

His sister, Erica Millard, said she sees fear behind the anger in the video he posted that morning. She described some personal problems he was having, but said she believes that by the time he arrived at McDonald’s – where he sat daily drinking coffee – he was ready to calm down.

Police say the man they encountered that day was far from calm. Lincoln interim Police Chief Tim Harrigan said police received a call that morning of a man shooting at a residence, and recognized Millard from the description.

An officer saw Millard’s truck in the McDonald’s parking lot at Third Street. When the officer approached, Millard came at him with a knife, Harrigan said. When Millard continued coming at him, despite orders to put the knife down, the officer fired.

“He ignored the officer’s commands,” Harrigan said. “It was to the point where the officer feared for his safety and the safety of others.”

Harrigan declined to give details of the confrontation, saying the shooting is still under investigation. The Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Lincoln police and the county coroner are handling aspects of the case. The district attorney also will be involved, the chief said. He said he did not know when the investigation will conclude.

The review will include whether the officer’s actions were within departmental policies, Harrigan said.

At the church on Saturday, where nearly 100 people gathered to talk about Millard, few mentioned the native son’s violent last day. Instead, several talked about Millard’s cheerful willingness to do odd jobs, and do them efficiently. A handful talked about letting him sleep on their couches, shower and eat when he’d drop by, because something about him made them care for him.

The news media portrayed him as homeless, one speaker said, but that’s not true. “He may have been houseless, but he wasn’t homeless.”

Some spoke of relationship problems and run-ins Millard had, but all said they found him open, friendly and amusing. At one point, he owned an Acura Integra painted in camouflage with a radio and loudspeaker and would drive along talking loudly to passers-by. He was a pit bull owner and an animal lover, and, as one speaker said, “the dude was the only man I know who petted a skunk.”

Another, Nick Hamilton, said he saw Millard walking down the street one day with a backpack that had an antenna sticking out.

“What’s the antenna for, bro?” he said he asked. “Nothin,” Millard said, “but everybody thinks I get Wi-Fi.”

“What happened did not need to happen the way that it happened, at all,” Hamilton said.

His parents did not attend the service. They are too broken up, his sister said. But his grandmother, Betty Bresnyan, was there.

“He was a special, special grandson,” she said. “I have a lot of them. But he touched our hearts.”

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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