Young Shooting Case Goes National (posted April 26, 2000)

The entry of famed attorneys Johnny Cochran, Barry Sheck and Peter Neufield dramatically alters the legal and political landscape surrounding the investigation into the shooting death of Providence police officer Cornell Young, Jr. The expected filing of a civil lawsuit today charging the two white officers and the city of Providence with wrongful death and civil rights violations opens new ground into the controversy surrounding Young's death. Unlike the grand jury proceedings which by law are secret, the civil case will be public, with all the relevant evidence aired for all to see. The grand jury investigation that produced no indictments in the charge of murder now will give way to a variety of new questions:

-Even if the officers are not guilty of murder, are they at risk from lower level charges, such as wrongful death?

-Did the fact that the two officers are white and Young was African-American play any role in how the officers responded the night of the shooting?

-Does the Providence Police Department suffer from poor training that contributed to the Young shooting?

-Is there anything in the backgrounds of the two officers or of Sargeant Young that is relevant to the case?

-Were there any problems in how the Providence Police Department and the Attorney General conducted the grand jury investigation?

Not only do these questions change the thrust of the investigation, the lawsuit increases the political risks for Mayor Buddy Cianci and Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, both of whom have sought to define the case along narrow legal grounds. So far, the two officials have managed to keep the case centered on the technical question of whether the officers were guilty of murder. However, now the questions will involve much more subtle subjects of whether race played a role, whether the Police Department incorporates sufficient training, and how complete the investigation was. Along with the questions being posed by the U.S. Justice Department, the entry of the famed lawyers and the public nature of the civil proceedings guarantee that a more broad range of questions will be answered for all to see.