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Mother Of Late Duquesne Student Is On A Hunger Strike For A Private Investigation, Accountability

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Dannielle Brown sits with a portrait of her son Marquis Brown at Freedom Corner in the Hill District.

Dannielle Brown wants answers. 

On Thursday morning, she sat in a rocking chair surrounded by photos of her late son Marquis Brown at Freedom Corner in the Hill District, as she had done for the last six days. She is on a hunger strike as she seeks answers surrounding her son’s death.

Brown, of Washington, D.C., didn’t tell anyone she was going to occupy the space in protest. After a couple of days, others joined her to occupy the space in tents.

“There was an incident that happened to my son. And for almost two years, since Oct. 4, 2018, this mom has not been able to breathe,” she said.

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Photos of Marquis Brown who was a 21-year-old Duquesne University student when he died.

Brown is raising money on GoFundMe for a private investigation into Marquis’ October 2018 death. She is also demanding that campus police officers wear body cameras and be trained in de-escalation tactics.

According to the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s investigation, Brown arrived to his dorm hall on Oct. 4, 2018 after visiting a friend’s off-campus apartment. According to the investigation, students called 911 as “Brown acted erratically in the elevator, in the 16th floor dorm hallway, and in his dorm room.” University Police responded. Soon after, according to the investigation, Brown broke a Duquesne University dorm room window with a chair. He then, according to police, jumped out of the 16th floor window. He was pronounced dead at UPMC Mercy hospital.

JB, as his friends knew him, was 21 years old and played football at Duquesne.

In a statement on Monday, the University said it conducted a separate investigation from the police that it called thorough.

“We have not made the details public out of respect for the family’s privacy, but last week we extended an invitation to meet with Mrs. Brown and her counsel to share that information,” the statement reads. “We believed Ms. Brown had much of this information, but from recent posts and statements it is now apparent that there is inaccurate information being circulated on social media and elsewhere about the events preceding JB's death, particularly regarding the role of the Duquesne University police. We believe the facts will show that those officers acted appropriately and reasonably, which is consistent with the findings of the City of Pittsburgh police report.”

Brown met with Duquesne University officials on Tuesday, but said she can’t share details because she signed a non-disclosure agreement. She said she already knew the information the officials shared with her, and that she was not contacted for an interview during either the city's or the university's investigations.

“I looked at the independent investigation as some type of risk management that will benefit Duquesne,” she said. “If I wasn’t contacted to get my viewpoint … then it’s not an independent investigation. It’s a self-serving investigation.”

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
A poster at Freedom Corner in the Hill District.

Brown said she wants to pick an investigator who will have access to all files without any roadblocks, she said.

"Give me the opportunity to find out. I have a lot to ask. Open the doors, be transparent and allow my investigator to have access to any information he needs. If my investigator’s information looks like their information, great. But guess what, we got the truth," she said. 

She said the death of her son still does not make sense.

“There’s no way that a parent should send their kid to college and they come back in a casket," she said. 

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She can be reached at sschneider@wesa.fm.
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