Cop found not guilty in slaying of African American youth

A grand jury ruled  that the police killing of Danroy “D.J.” Henry, Jr., the African American Pace University football player cops shot outside of a bar in suburban New York, was not a crime, but family, friends – and now the Department of Justice – aren’t convinced.

The shooting, by Pleasantville, N.Y., police officer Aaron Hess, took place Oct. 17, 2010, outside of Finnegan’s Grill, a bar in the Westchester County suburb. A fight broke out in front of Finnegan’s, apparently while Henry was in his car, which was parked in the fire lane, waiting for six of his teammates to come out. Police officers, including Hess, responded. When they arrived, an officer knocked on Henry’s window. Thinking the cops wanted him to exit the fire lane, Henry moved forward.

Police say Henry sped forward, pinning Hess to a wall, causing the officer to shoot. But witnesses and Michael Sussman, the civil rights attorney representing Henry, determined that the police began shooting as soon as Henry – at the officers’ request – began to move his car. Hess jumped on the hood and began shooting.

Since then, there have been wildly different stories of what actually happened, and charges of a racist police cover up – reaching up through the police department to the district attorney – have arisen. Yesterday’s acquittal only adds to suspicions.

Police accused Henry of being drunk, but witnesses say he was in the bar dancing – and refusing drinks, as he was acting as designated driver. This accusation, which was leaked by sources within the police department, is also considered by Henry’s defenders as evidence of a cover up. Why, they ask, would police leak something like that to the press?

Even with the shooting, Henry’s supporters say, the young man did not need to die. But, they claim, while officers who were only injured slightly received medical attention, Henry was handcuffed and pushed face down onto the ground. Four of his friends, Pace University football teammates, were arrested when they tried to administer first aid.

“No charges from grand jury,” the victim’s father, Danroy Henry, Sr., said yesterday via Twitter. “Expected, given the efforts to cover up a clear murder. The road to truth isn’t straight! God is in charge.”

According to the Facebeook page for the Pleasantville 7, as Henry and his friends are now called, the “grand jury and DA finds that Aaron Hess is NOT responsible for the killing of our beloved DJ Henry. Now we will go to the Justice Department. They have no idea what they’ve unleashed!”

Earlier today, the Department of Justice announced that it would investigate.

“Consistent with our practice in cases of this kind,” said Ellen Davis, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, “the Department of Justice will review all of the available evidence with respect to the death of Danroy Henry Jr., including the evidence available to the Westchester County district attorney’s office, to determine whether there were any violations of the federal criminal civil rights laws.”

While police brutality, including murder, against African American men often goes unpunished, this case has attracted a high degree of publicity. Even Scott Brown, the Republican Senator from Henry’s home state of Massachusetts, has called for further investigation.

Image courtesy Committee for Pleasantville 7.