Some of the biggest names in entertainment are calling on the Justice Department to reopen the case of Danroy “D.J.” Henry, a 20-year-old Black college student from Easton who was shot and killed by a white police officer outside a restaurant in Mount Pleasant, N.Y., in 2010.
Rihanna, Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, and Kerry Washington are among the celebrities who signed on to the July 13 letter, which was addressed to US Attorney General William Barr.
“. . . [L]ike so many other unarmed and innocent young, black men who find themselves guilty of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, DJ, too, lost his life for no good reason and with absolutely no good explanation — to this very day,” the letter states. “Justice, it appears, has been denied.”
The shooting made headlines around the country. On Oct. 18, 2010, police were called to disperse a group of patrons outside of Finnegan’s Grill in Westchester County, after a homecoming party. An investigation by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York determined that Henry, a Pace College football player, was shot as he was driving away from the restaurant.
A police officer had knocked on the car window, and a passenger in the car with Henry told investigators they thought officers wanted them to move the vehicle. As Henry pulled forward, police yelled for him to stop. At one point, Officer Aaron Hess stepped in front of the car, ended up on the hood, and fired several shots through the windshield.
Henry was pulled from the car and died, handcuffed on the pavement, awaiting EMTs. The passenger was also wounded.
No federal charges were brought in the case. In 2015, the US Attorney’s Office, then led by Preet Bharara, determined after its investigation that the “evidence did not support charges.”
The US attorney’s report stated at that time that it “examined the evidence regarding the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and the failure of officers on the scene, which was chaotic, to administer medical care to Mr. Henry as they waited for EMT crews. Here, too, the office could not conclude that the officers’ actions amounted to a willful criminal civil rights violation.”
But many elements of the case remained murky. Depositions and testimony revealed contradictions. Another officer on the scene shot at Hess, according to the Rockland/Westchester Journal News, “whom he considered the aggressor in the situation.”
In 2016, Angella and Danroy Henry Sr., the parents of the slain student, reached a $6 million settlement with the town and the officer. A year later, the family settled a civil lawsuit with Mount Pleasant that included an apology from the town and a $250,000 donation to the DJ Henry Dream Fund, a Boston-based nonprofit that helps makes it possible for kids to participate in sports, performing arts, and summer programs.
Danroy Henry Sr. says he wants to see the case into his son’s death reopened. Much new information into the circumstances of that night came to light during civil discovery, he said, after the criminal case was closed.
“As human beings we should all want a standard of justice that is fair and right,” he said Tuesday evening. “And it just wasn’t in the case of our son’s murder. . . . We should just get an honest, transparent review of the facts. That’s all we’re asking.”
The letter to the Barr and the Department of Justice likewise demands “full transparency” in the case.
“The DOJ must truthfully determine whether a pattern and/or practice of discrimination played a role in the case of DJ Henry — and if it did — deliver the justice that restores this young man’s name and reputation, while giving hope to other young black men who are just like him and desperate for change,” the letter states.
Other celebrities who signed the letter include Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, Odell Beckham Jr., Gabrielle Union, Charlize Theron, and Michael K. Williams.
In addition to the letter, a petition on Change.org to reopen the Henry case had drawn nearly 34,000 signatures by Tuesday night. Comedian Amy Schumer on Tuesday urged her 10 million Instagram followers to post about the Henry case, and included a link to the petition and to a video.
Hayley Kaufman can be reached at email@example.com.