Dear Members of the Duquesne University community,
The University has been addressing in a compassionate, yet legally responsible way, the questions posed by Dannielle Brown, mother of Duquesne athlete Marquis “J.B.” Brown, who tragically died in October of 2018.
Dannielle came to Pittsburgh’s Freedom Corner in July of this year, asking for more information and suggesting changes for the future. Shortly after Dannielle’s arrival, I and key members of Duquesne’s leadership team met with Dannielle, her lawyer, Lee Merritt, and attorneys from the Reed Smith firm who had conducted an independent investigation for Duquesne shortly after J.B.’s death.
At this meeting, the Reed Smith lawyers shared the details of their findings with attorney Merritt and Dannielle, which are summarized in the University’s recent statement: (https://duq.edu/news/releases/duquesne-statement-in-response-to-dannielle-browns-three-demands). We listened to Dannielle, heard her requests for more information and other steps she was requesting we take.
Within days, the University agreed to all three of her requests and began working with her attorney to permit him and Dannielle to review the Duquesne Public Safety file, consistent with federal and state privacy laws and to satisfy her other requests. More than a month has passed. Attorney Merritt has now stepped down as Dannielle’s attorney, and Duquesne presently does not know which attorney has been retained to represent Dannielle.
Since working through normal legal channels is not succeeding, it is my judgment that we must take a new approach to focus on caring for Dannielle’s wellbeing and efforts to bring peace, solutions and a sense of closure for her.
The fact that Dannielle filed a lawsuit against Duquesne shortly after her son’s death requires us to follow litigation protocols and, if possible, have her communications go through counsel. In the meantime, however, Dannielle’s health and safety have to be a priority, even as we await her new legal counsel.
I’m deeply sympathetic to Ms. Brown and her family. I can’t even imagine what they’ve gone through. I met with Dannielle and her family the day after J.B. died. I sat at the conference table as we all shed tears and prayed. Our University colleagues stood with Dannielle and her family at the memorial service
that was held on campus for J.B., as an enormous number of students and faculty members came to pay their respects in an overwhelming and moving outpouring of grief. Our leadership team and football team travelled to Maryland for the funeral; there, I listened to Dannielle express her deep spiritual belief that J.B was now watching over us as an angel might. When we learned from Dannielle that she had been unable to get a grave marker, we arranged for her to pick out something special (it included artwork by J.B.) that is truly inspiring and captures J.B.’s spirit beautifully. The team won its conference championship that year in J.B.’s honor, and Coach Jerry Schmitt presented a special championship ring and pendant to Dannielle at the football banquet, which, too, was dedicated in J.B.’s memory. When Dannielle mentioned to our athletic director that she wanted a special tribute to J.B. next to the football field, we built a bench there commemorating him, and dedicated an early game of the 2019 season to him, with Dannielle present on the field to witness the love and support of the football team and the whole campus family for her and J.B.
Our athletic director and his staff have done their best to look out for her on a regular basis, with visits and check-ins at Freedom Corner, along with offers to provide hotel rooms, food, water and medical care. Fr. Bill Christy, Director of Campus Ministry, has made a number of visits to check on her and see if he can assist. Our public safety officers have provided her with a place to park on campus and we’ve made the restroom in Barnes & Noble (currently not open to the public) available to her. The whole Duquesne family is concerned for Dannielle and cares deeply about her entire family.
I have therefore asked a team of respected leaders at Duquesne and others from the broader community to assist me in addressing this situation. I have asked these individuals—both from Duquesne and the broader community—to form a special team to provide assistance to, and directly listen to, Dannielle. These individuals include health care professionals who can look out for her wellbeing, as well as individuals who can help her (and her attorney) sit down and review all of the evidence in this matter, which is at her disposal but requires following the correct legal protocols. My goal is to open up a dialogue with Dannielle and listen directly to her; find out what she needs and wants; determine how we can help her find the answers she is looking for; and make sure that her health and safety remain a top priority.
The Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition, too, have expressed deep concern for Dannielle’s wellbeing, and have offered to assist in any way possible. We welcome their involvement. One elected official has already reached out to the City Police Department and has asked them to assist in allowing Ms. Brown and her attorney (if one is identified) to review the City’s extensive investigative file of the incident that includes interviews with witnesses, police reports, as well as physical evidence from the scene. I have also personally directed our Chief of Public Safety, Tom Hart, to arrange to allow Ms. Brown and her attorney to sit down and review the Duquesne public safety file as soon as possible, in a setting designed to preserve the confidentiality of the materials so that they may obtain all available information as we comply with privacy laws. As well, at my direction Chief Hart will make available the video footage of J.B. from the cameras in the residence hall on the night of the tragedy, so that Dannielle and her legal team may review them.
I walked down to the entrance of campus yesterday to speak again with Dannielle, to see how she is doing, and to convey to her, personally, Duquesne’s commitment to this new direction in seeking solutions. She seemed in good spirits and indicated that she would like to check with her legal team, but she appreciated the outreach. We are hopeful that the new attorney for Dannielle will contact us as soon as possible. In the meantime, we stand ready to have a team of individuals assist Dannielle and listen to her requests so that we can engage in a true dialogue to determine how to create a positive pathway forward for her, her family, and the whole campus community, doing all of this in J.B.’s honor and memory. We are committed to doing just that. Please keep those assisting Dannielle and Dannielle herself in your prayers as we move forward on this important endeavor.