EASTON -- The family of Danroy “D.J.” Henry Jr., the Pace University football player from Easton who was fatally shot by police in New York in the fall, has formally filed a lawsuit against the police officer who fired the fatal bullets.
The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in White Plains, N.Y., alleges Pleasantville Police Officer Aaron Hess showed a “reckless disregard for human life, most specifically the life of Danroy Henry Jr.” The lawsuit alleges that Henry's civil rights were violated, and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Henry’s family said they wanted to use the lawsuit to compel New York authorities to release evidence in the case, including audio and video recordings, as well as Hess’s testimony about the incident and his personnel file.
“Danny should still be here. ... We need the truth,” Henry’s sister, Amber, said at a news conference held by the family at their Easton home. Henry’s brother, Kyle, said he would spend the rest of his life trying to find out what really happened the night his brother was killed. “These people murdered an innocent, great person. These are not good people,” he said.
Henry, a 20-year-old junior at the university located in Pleasantville, was shot outside a bar in the early morning hours after a homecoming game celebration. Two officers fired, but it is believed that Hess fired the fatal shots.
Authorities said Henry, who was driving a car, sped toward police who were responding to a melee at the bar, brushing one officer with a side view mirror and heading directly at Hess. Police said at the time that Hess was forced onto the hood and fired to protect himself. He was thrown to the ground and underwent knee surgery.
But some witness statements provided a far different account. Several witnesses, including passengers of Henry’s car, said he drove away because an officer had ordered him to leave the fire lane. Before he could slow down, Hess jumped in front of the vehicle, onto the hood, and started firing, they said.
One witness, Brandon Cox, Henry’s lifelong friend and a passenger of the car, told authorities that Henry tried to slow down but did not have enough time. Cox was also grazed in the arm by a bullet.
Witnesses also described a chaotic scene after the shooting, with police officers pointing guns at people who tried to come to Henry’s aid. Four people were charged with interfering with police, but those charges were dropped.
Meanwhile, according to witness testimony, Henry was handcuffed and placed on the sidewalk, where he lay dying.
Local investigators convened a grand jury, but no indictments were handed up – outraging the Henry family. On the day the local district attorney announced she would not bring charges, the US Justice Department announced it would conduct its own investigation because of the nature of the shooting and concerns over possible civil rights violations. Henry was black; the officers who fired are white.
Earlier this month, the union representing Hess named him its "Officer of the Year," outraging the Henry family. The family pointed out that the award was given even while the shooting remains under investigation by the Justice Department.
"To say we’re disappointed by that is an understatement. One has to question why they would do that. It almost smacks of a level of arrogance, that they are above the law,” Henry’s father, Danroy Henry said at the news conference.
Henry’s mother, Angella, said the family had been “overwhelmed by support from so many places.” Asked about the amount of monetary damages the family is seeking, she said, “There’s no dollar amount that will fill that void.”
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