Ellison: We need answers

Raising Hellison

Andre Narcisse ’12 was one of my Branford little sibs, but beyond the initial meet-and-greet at the beginning of his freshman year, I did not have any interaction with him. To be honest, I didn’t even remember meeting him until after he died when I wondered how we were Facebook friends and found an old e-mail. Sometimes I wonder whether I could have been a better big sib and done something to prevent his death at the hands of “multiple drug toxicity.”

But that’s not the only thing I’ve wondered since I learned of Andre’s death four months ago.

I grew frustrated with the way the University was handling Andre’s death early on. Through the Branford grapevine, I heard a few hours after his death that drugs were involved. I realize that this was a rumor, but is that not what investigators refer to as a lead? If the Yale Police Department didn’t know drugs were to blame, they should have.

I recognize that speculation can have negative effects, especially during a time dedicated to mourning a life taken too soon. At the beginning of November, we appropriately wanted to celebrate Andre and did not want the specter of drugs looming over his life. I understand; it makes sense to wait for an official toxicology report so that all doubt can be removed.

It is of course also possible that the YPD suspected, as many of us did, that drugs were the cause of Andre’s death and, for the reasons described above, decided not to announce their suspicions publicly. But frankly, if they did, their conduct was troubling in a number of ways.

They didn’t say anything to Andre’s mom, who told Newsday in November, “Everyone is in a state of limbo. The family will not have rest until we know.” They made no public attempt to investigate how he got the drugs, a transaction that presumably involved illegal activity. Rather, the News reported Nov. 2 — one day after he was pronounced dead — that “police do not suspect foul play.”

I don’t know the technical definition of “foul play,” but there is precedent for legal investigations after drug-related deaths. Perhaps the most famous example was the case of Len Bias, the star University of Maryland basketball player who died of a cocaine overdose the night after the Boston Celtics selected him second overall in the 1986 NBA draft. Following Bias’ death, his friend Brian Tribble was indicted for possession of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and Maryland players Terry Long and David Gregg were both charged with possession of cocaine and obstruction of justice, although none of the three were convicted.

Some may question the usefulness of such an investigation, pointing to Yale’s alcohol policy that emphasizes safety over law enforcement. I fully support this policy when it comes to alcohol. And I think Yale should provide as many resources as possible to help those who have substance abuse problems, as Andre may have had. But drug distribution is a different matter. The University should not look the other way when someone sells or gives drugs to a 19-year-old. In this case, for purposes of justice and for purposes of deterrence, the laws should be enforced.

Perhaps the most troubling part of all of this is that Yale has a clear motive to not investigate. It is entirely possible that an investigation could implicate fellow students, just as the Bias investigation did. As they were at the University of Maryland, such implications would be a public relations nightmare for Yale.

I have no reason to suspect a planned cover-up. But I do know that if Yale wanted to cover something up, I can’t think of anything they would have done differently. And four months later, with no real investigation started, it would be much more difficult to recreate the events that led to Andre’s death. It is, of course, possible that the way the University handled the situation was driven by incompetence, or to be fair, by decisions made in good faith with which I simply disagree.

Whatever the rationale, the decisions that were made were, in my opinion, the wrong ones. Current and prospective Yale students need to know that the University is doing everything in its power to prevent deadly illegal substances from being sold on its campus. It won’t bring my little sib back, but it will make Yale a safer place for everyone else’s.

Matthew Ellison is a senior in Branford.

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