Last week, Howard Thomas Cook Jr. died in York City Police custody after he was shocked twice with a Taser.

An autopsy failed to determine the cause or manner of the 30-year-old's death, although the York County Coroner's Office continues to investigate.

It's important we know what happened here.

State police are investigating, but there's no indication so far city police officers did anything wrong when they chased and apprehended Cook, who fled on foot after a vehicle stop.

So how did he die?

The logical question is whether the Taser contributed in any way to Cook's death.

Was the device working properly?

Did a "drive stun," which the officers delivered when Cook continued resisting after being shot with the incapacitating darts, contribute to his death?

Or were there any medical conditions that would have made a usually non-lethal stun deadly to the father of four?

Maybe Cook's death was completely unrelated to his arrest.

Our faith in the men and women of the York City Police, their equipment and their training depend on the answers.

And much of the investigation will depend on the coroner's final report.

But under a bill being considered by the state Senate, much of the coroner's information would be shrouded in secrecy.

Coroner Barry Bloss wouldn't even have had to tell us Cook had died until January.

Senate Bill 961 would change the County Code to eliminate access to virtually all information produced by taxpayer-funded coroners after a death.


Coroners would only have to release a name, cause and manner of death -- but not until 30 days after the calendar year in which a death occurs.

A full report on the cause of a suspicious death like Cook's -- including details that might exonerate the officers or point to needed changes -- would be denied to the families of the deceased, to the news media and to the public.

This is the second time the Legislature has attempted these ill-advised changes, which directly contradict the state's Right to Know Law. Last year a similar bill made it to the desk of Gov. Ed Rendell, who vetoed it.

"There is no justification for such draconian restrictions -- and significant public policy reasons why this information must remain public," Rendell wrote at the time.

"... Coroners cite sensitivity to family members' feelings at the time of a death," he went on. "This is understandable, but it does not change the fact that coroners are elected officials and have historically provided a public function."

It was true then, and it's true now.

The Legislature has many more pressing and important tasks at hand.

To instead spend its time on a campaign to hide the work of public officials from those who have a right and need to know is distressing indeed.