Black Father Racially Profiled by Police in Needham, MA

Police Accountability, Racial Justice

Statement on Independent Investigation into Racial Profiling of Marvin Henry in Needham, MA

The Town of Needham released a report by Attorney Natashia Tidwell examining the racial profiling and handcuffing of Marvin Henry, a Black father of four, by the Needham Police Department (NPD) in January 2020, as well as the subsequent internal investigation by NPD. Notably, the report concludes, among other things that: 

  • the pat frisk conducted almost immediately after Mr. Henry was seized was “in contravention of NPD policy and the law”;
  • the police department’s internal investigation is “deficient in several key areas,” given that it “does not adequately address factual inconsistencies” and “does not sufficiently assess the officers’ conduct pursuant to relevant NPD policies”; 
  • numerous operational and procedural recommendations should be implemented to “help prevent erosion of public confidence in the police department ability to ‘police its own'”; and 
  • NPD officers, in interviews with Attorney Tidwell, repeatedly minimized Mr. Henry’s experience, an experience the Supreme Court has called a “serious intrusion upon the sanctity of the person,” with the Report concluding with a hope that that experience will serve as an impetus for implementation of the outlined recommendations and an “overdue acknowledgment of the harm caused to Mr. Henry.” 

“Although we disagree with several of Attorney Tidwell’s conclusions, especially and including the absence of racial profiling, we note that the report specifically rejects any idea that Mr. Henry experienced a mere “petty indignity,” said Lauren Sampson, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, who is representing Mr. Henry. “Her report, and its very specific recommendations, make clear what Mr. Henry and other people of color who live and work in Needham have long known: the police department is unable to police itself. Reform is necessary and it can’t wait.” 

The report outlines several recommendations for the Needham Police Department, including recording internal affairs interviews and adopting a preponderance of the evidence standard for sustaining a complaint. In a statement, the Needham Select Board acknowledged that Mr. Henry “did nothing wrong” and stated they would work with the Needham Police Chief to “consider opportunities for improvements to practices and policies” recommended by Attorney Tidwell. 

“It is unfortunate that it took a demand letter and an independent investigation for Needham to take Mr. Henry seriously,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director at Lawyers for Civil Rights and counsel to Mr. Henry in this matter. “We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure the Town takes swift action to adopt Attorney Tidwell’s recommendations.” 

Mr. Henry is represented pro bono by LCR and WilmerHale. 

The report is available here. The demand letter sent in July 2020 is available here.