Watch CBS News

Katrina Brownlee's journey: From rock bottom to success in an unlikely place

Katrina Brownlee: The Good Cop
Katrina Brownlee: The Good Cop 41:20

A look inside the case that began the day Katrina Cooke Brownlee nearly lost her life at the hands of her ex-fiancé.

Early Life

Katrina Brownlee
A young Katrina Brownlee. Katrina Brownlee

Katrina Cooke Brownlee grew up in Brooklyn, New York.

A Single Mom

Katrina Brownlee
Katrina Brownlee was a single mother at 18. Katrina Brownlee

By the time she was 18 years old, Katrina was a single mom of one, living in the Brevoort housing projects in Brooklyn.

1988: Meeting A Man with a Badge

Alex Irvin
In 1988, Katrina Brownlee met Alex Irvin, a NYPD correction officer. Boys and Girls High School

At 18, Katrina met Alex Irvin, a New York City correction officer working at Rikers Island, and they began dating and had a daughter together. Katrina hoped he would provide a way out for her. Instead, she says he started to physically abuse her almost immediately.

Katrina says she called 911 multiple times to no avail. When police would arrive and see Irvin's badge, she says they would leave without giving her the help she needed.

1992: "A house of horror"

Irvin's Long Island home
The "house of horror" in Medford, Long Island. Suffolk County Police Department

In 1992, Irvin moved Katrina and the two girls to a house in Medford, Long Island, and Katrina says the abuse continued.

After years of beatings at the hands of her fiancé, Katrina decided to leave Irvin and took her daughters to a local motel.

January 9, 1993: Armed and dangerous

Alex Irvin's service revolver
Alex Irvin's service revolver Suffolk County Police Department

On January 9, 1993, that house became a crime scene when Katrina returned to retrieve some clothes and other belongings. Irvin was armed with his service revolver and was waiting for her.

The attack

Bullet hole in sofa
A bullet hole in the sofa in Alex Irvin's Long Island house. Suffolk County Police Department

Shortly after Katrina entered the house, the shooting began. 

Ten shots fired

Five spent shell casings and one projectile were recovered at the crime scene. Over the course of an hour-and-a-half, the correction officer emptied his service revolver two times at the pregnant mother of two.     Suffolk County Police Department

Alex Irvin fired at Katrina 10 times over the course of an hour-and-a-half.

The unrelenting assailant

Crime scene evidence
According to police, Irvin used the speedloaders seen here to quickly reload his gun and continue shooting. Suffolk County Police Department

According to police, after Irvin had shot at Katrina five times, he used speedloaders seen in the photo above to quickly reload his gun and continue shooting.

Katrina's will to survive

Crime scene evidence
A path of Katrina's blood is seen in the living room and leading into the adjacent room.  "This is the photograph that says suffering to me," says Assistant District Attorney Keri Herzog. Suffolk County Police Department

Katrina crawled from room to room trying to escape her attacker. At one point even trying to hide behind a plant.

A knock at the door

Katrina was found by a friend of Alex Irvin's family bleeding on the bathroom floor. Suffolk County Police Department

During the attack, a 20-year-old friend of Irvin's family made an unexpected visit to the house. Upon entering, he found Katrina bleeding on the bathroom floor.  

Help from an unlikely place

Crime scene evidence
As Katrina lay bleeding on the floor, a friend of Irvin's family visited unexpectedly. That friend picked Katrina up and took her to the hospital.  She was rushed into surgery, but doctors were unable to remove six of the bullets that had entered her body, says Katrina.  Suffolk County Police Department

The young friend put Katrina in the backseat of the car and drove her to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in Long Island, surprisingly, with Irvin's help. Outside the emergency room, the friend put her in a wheelchair, pushed her inside, and sped off.

Emergency surgery

Katrina was rushed into surgery immediately. Multiple operations followed in the days ahead, but doctors were unable to remove six of the bullets that had entered her body, according to Assistant District Attorney Keri Herzog.

A strong advocate

Assistant District Attorney Keri Herzog.
Assistant District Attorney Keri Herzog. CBS News

ADA Keri Herzog came to the hospital and took a dying declaration from Katrina about what happened to her and who was responsible. Herzog put together the strongest possible case against Irvin using Katrina's words and all available evidence.

Defying the odds

Katrina Brownlee
Katrina Brownlee in April 1994, over a year after the shooting. Katrina Brownlee

Even though Katrina says her doctors told her she might never walk again after the shooting, she worked at recovery. With the help of a physical therapist, Katrina says she gradually went from using a wheelchair, to using a walker, to walking with a cane, to eventually walking on her own.

Nowhere to turn

Katrina Brownlee
Katrina Brownlee outside Catherine Street shelter where she and her daughters stayed when they became homeless. CBS News

However, without any family to take them in, Katrina and her daughters eventually became homeless. They turned to a shelter in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

"Rats were there, roaches was there… It was really, really bad here." Katrina says she would take her daughters to a nearby McDonald's to wash up.

July 2001: A new route

Katrina Brownlee in uniform
In July 2001, Katrina joined the Police Academy. As a police officer with the NYPD, she says she channeled her energy into helping others get the support she never had. Katrina Brownlee

Despite her circumstances, Katrina didn't give up on herself. She decided to pursue a career at an unlikely place: The New York City Police Department. In July 2001, Katrina joined the Police Academy. As a police officer, she channeled her energy into helping others get the support she never had.

"Why wouldn't I want to help protect and serve? Just because I didn't receive it, it doesn't mean that I shouldn't want to help others," says Katrina.

Katrina decided to never tell any of her fellow officers about her past.  

2003: Going undercover

Katrina Brownlee
From the start, Katrina Brownlee sought out a tough assignment: going undercover in Brooklyn and Queens — even adopting a cigar-smoking persona to catch drug dealers. Katrina Brownlee

In the NYPD, Katrina served in many different roles. In December 2003, she joined the narcotics unit and started working undercover. She took on this cigar-smoking drug-addict persona to catch drug dealers on the streets of Brooklyn and Queens.

"Anything that entailed undercover, I did it," says Katrina.  

2006: NYPD Vice

Katrina Brownlee
"Being out there in the streets, doing undercover work with the young ladies, you learn that everybody has a story and everybody's story is different," Katrina Brownlee says of working Vice. "But everybody come[s] from the same pain." Katrina Brownlee

Katrina joined the NYPD's Vice Squad, going undercover as a prostitute to catch pimps and those soliciting prostitution. She connected with the women she encountered while working on the streets.

"The only difference was that I was working undercover and… this was their actual life. But we had a lot of similar stories… In terms of being victims of some sort of violence or coming from a place of darkness…" says Katrina.

2011: Community Affairs

Katrina Brownlee
After ­­­­five hard years working undercover on the streets, Katrina Brownlee took to the streets again as a community affairs officer. Katrina Brownlee

In 2011, Katrina moved to the Community Affairs office where she says she was able to give back to the community.

"For me, growing up, I lived in a neighborhood that was forgotten. And I just felt that I had so much that I could give back," says Katrina.

2012: Giving back

Katrina Brownlee
Katrina Brownlee's organization has been mentoring young ladies for the past 10 years. Katrina Brownlee

During her time at Community Affairs, Katrina started a mentorship program called Young Ladies of Our Future. She has been leading the organization since 2012.

2014: Joining the mayor's team

Katrina Brownlee
Katrina Brownlee became an elite member of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's security detail – one of the few Black women in NYPD history to do so. Shutterstock

In 2014, Katrina joined Mayor Bill de Blasio's advance security detail, becoming one of the few Black women in NYPD history assigned to protect a New York City mayor. She would work with him until her retirement.

July 2017: High honors at the NYPD

Katrina Brownlee
Detective Katrina Brownlee continued to excel, becoming a detective first-grade, the NYPD's highest investigative rank.  Katrina Brownlee

In July 2017, Katrina was promoted to detective first-grade – the NYPD's highest investigative rank.

July 2021: Katrina's Retirement

Katrina Brownlee
In 2021, after 20 years on the force, Katrina Brownlee retired from the NYPD. Her friend and former advocate Keri Herzog is pictured center right. Katrina Brownlee

After a 20-year career with the NYPD, Katrina retired in July 2021. 

A story of hope

Katrina Brownlee
Katrina Brownlee CBS News

Reflecting on her life's journey, Katrina tells "48 Hours," "The 22-year-old Katrina was lost, broken… forgotten, violated …  And now today, I feel like I am a beautiful Black queen that fought the fight."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.