Henry Allen Tucker, age 16, was shot in the back of the head by Capitol Police Pvt. Gregory M. LaCoss on August 17, 1958. Two papers — Evening Star and Washington Post — reported on the story over time. Baltimore Afro-American reported on Henry Tucker’s funeral. No direct physical descriptions accompany the news stories, reporting never mentions race, and resulting family lawsuit focuses on the patronage nature of hiring and lack of training for Capitol Police officers of the 1950s.
Instead of descriptive language, pictures of LaCoss and Tucker accompany the early stories of the Evening Star and the Post:
- Evening Star (August 18) shows LaCoss in a full-length photo of a white man, age 30, with short-cropped hair and serious military demeanor; and Tucker, a Black child with short hair smiling in shirt and tie for school-type photo.
- The Post‘s story uses the same photo of Tucker; a headshot of uniformed LaCoss; a headshot of Ronald Brown (a Black man in his 20s or 30s, in polo shirt and cap), “nightman at the Plaza hotel” who testified at the inquest; and a full-length shot of two officers (white men, probably late 20s or 30s, in short-sleeves without tie or jacket), arriving for the inquest.
- The Afro-American‘s funeral coverage does not include photos; most follow-up stories for the Post and Evening Star are accompanied by no images.
The short version: On August 19, 1958, a coroner’s jury issued a verdict of “justifiable homicide.” The U.S. Attorney then launched a “full-scale investigation.” Tucker’s mother sued the Pvt. LaCoss and the board of the Capitol Police, who were legally charged with officer supervision. The latter case — which argued that the board had failed to investigate the training competence and fitness of Pvt. LaCoss — was dismissed in June 1959; information about the former case is elusive.
NOTE: DC Public Library has The Evening Star archive as well as the broader NewsBank, which includes The Evening Star; the Washington Post is also available as a separate archive and in the NewsBank regional database. DCPL also has a Historic Black Newspapers database. Library card or student ID is required for access. Stories are provided via PDF but the archive is searchable and browse-able — it’s a tremendous resource.
Details of Coverage
In both Post and Evening Star, Pvt. LaCoss is reported as saying at the inquest that the reason for his interaction with Tucker was a call reporting a boy struggling with a girl in the park near the Senate Building (just one then). He added that Henry Tucker resembled a teenager suspected of rape in the area: news stories do not mention how LaCoss was informed of this suspect or what kind of description he had. (Perhaps this was common knowledge at the time, or inquest materials include more detail — or, maybe, he somehow learned that a teenage Black youth, with no further description, had been suspected of rape.) Pvt LaCoss also told the inquest that he feared for his life due to Tucker’s behavior. (The youth was 20 feet away, but LaCoss claimed he was about to throw a knife, which was found still in his back pocket.)
Evening Star reported early on that the girl involved said Tucker was “twisting her arm” but let go when the police car appeared; later stories add that she also explained that Tucker was a “part time boy friend” — and also that she did not see Tucker produce a weapon. Evening Star coverage cites Tucker’s mother saying he had not been in trouble, while records indicate that the youth was charged seven times, between the ages of 10 and 16, with a range of crimes; the Evening Star adds that “Police said they did not know the disposition of those cases.” The officer, meanwhile, is described as having been on the force for 2-1/2 years, after Navy service which included pistol training, but “has received no formal training” as an officer. — from Evening Star, August 18, 1958: 6. NewsBank: Access World News – Historical and Current. See also: Evening Star, February 19, 1959: 73.
Most of the Post ‘s coverage is legally- or policy-focused, and letters to the editor surround hiring practices and lack of training for Capitol Police. Their August 20 story notes that the U.S. Attorney was looking into contradictory testimony: “Tucker’s teenage companion, and three other Capitol policemen on the scene, testified that they saw no knife until after the shooting.” Tucker, as a person, does not figure in these stories.
A piece, six months after the incident, says that Welfare wants to know why Tucker was “out on the street when the Court records showed that he was confined to the Children’s Center in Laurel, MD.” The article is about inter-agency communication and conflicting policies. Tucker is not really a character in this coverage, and the public conversation seems to remain on the Capitol Police selection and training.
At least in the newspapers, there is no outrage over general juvenile criminality — a group of 16-year-olds out at 1 a.m. after a dance does not seem to have raised questions bout parental supervision and discipline. But there is also not much outrage, as evidenced in the mainstream newspapers, over the loss of life; if this was discussed in worship and education settings, there might be records somewhere.
The Baltimore Afro-American reported on the funeral and grief (only the one story found). Henry A. Tucker was described as a boy “who never gave a moment’s trouble” and an athlete who had attended Randall Junior High School. The rest of the story is about mourners’ grief and then about legal controversy. (September 6, 1958)
Evening Star August 18, 1958
Full-Scale Investigation Is Started In Shooting of Youth by Policeman.
- The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959). 20 Aug 1958: B1.
Inquest Clears Officer In Boy’s Fatal Shooting, By William Burden Staff Reporter.
- The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959). 19 Aug 1958: A3.
A Shot in the Dark.
- The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959). 20 Aug 1958: A20.
See also “Patronage Police” editorial on August 23 and Capitol Police Chief’s response about lack of notification to Mrs. Tucker.
Family mourns teenager shot by cop; mom plants last kiss
- Stratford, Mary. Afro-American (1893-); Baltimore, Md. [Baltimore, Md]. 06 Sep 1958: 20.
Welfare Unit, Bench Differ: Closer Check Asked
- By James Clayton Staff Reporter. The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959). 11 Feb 1959: B7.