Co-written by Michael Oleaga, Managing Editor; Amanda Shinn, Sports Editor; Gabrielle Saulsbery, Paw Print Intern
The Pleasantville campus is still adjusting to the fatal shooting of Pace football player Danroy “DJ” Henry Jr. in the village of Thornwood in the early morning of Oct. 17.
Michael Sussman, a civil right attorney who has been representing the Henry family since the shooting, spoke at press conference that “Any event like this is an extraordinary tragedy for the family.”
Sussman spoke to numerous witnesses and sent his representatives, Sonnia VanHaaster and Aja Clevenger, and collect further accounts from students last Thursday at the Starbucks in Pleasantville. Sussman, who is conducting his own investigation into what happened on the night of Oct. 17, said witnesses have given him a different account than police have presented.
He said, according to witnesses, Henry was driving away at a “low rate of speed” for only a few feet before the police shots were fired and there was no formal response from emergency medical personnel for 12 to 15 minutes.
This delayed response to help Henry was furthered supported by students who attended the Starbucks meeting with VanHaaster and Clevenger.
Former Pace students George Prepis and Kyle Lotwich, who currently attend William Patterson University, were at Finnegan’s Grill the night DJ was shot and said it took approximately 15 minutes before paramedics arrives.
“I see a cop on top of a car, my friend says its DJ car. I got up to see and I see (DJ) stumbling out of the car. I went to assist him but an officer pulled me back,” said Lotwich.
“Two cops grabbed him as he was out of the car, one cop sat on his neck and another on his back,” said Prepis, who also stated he attempted to go help Henry but was yelled at by a police officer.
In Tarrytown, Fox 5, ABC, CBS and News 12 were just some of the 15 cameras lined up on the afternoon of Fri. Oct. 22 for the press conference held by civil rights attorney Bonita Zelman. Zelman is representing seniors Joe Garcia, Daniel Parker, Desmond Hinds, Yves Delpeche and many other people who were witnesses to Danroy DJ Henry’s death. According to those being represented and their attorney, the police used unnecessary, excessive force on the night of Oct 17.
Based on the football players’ statements, Hinds was ripped out of Henry’s car, handcuffed and beaten while Garcia and Delpeche were handcuffed and tazed while trying to help their friend. Parker, CPR certified, begged and pleaded with the police to let him administer CPR to Henry. Instead, according to Parker, officers pointed a gun to his ribs and cuffed him.
“The only thing I ask was, ‘Can I help? Can I help him? And I know CPR,’ and that’s all I asked officers, and that’s all I said to the officers. And I said ‘He’s dying.’ And I asked again, ‘Can I help him? Can I help him?’ and I was cut off,” said Parker during the press conference.
Joseph Romanick, junior quarterback and friend of Henry’s, said he also tried to help Henry during the wait for the ambulance. He too ended up in handcuffs.
The athletes and attorney Zelman state that DJ laid on the concrete, facedown in handcuffs “left to die” from the lack of attention from the police and of the paramedics.
According to them, the first ambulance that arrived catered to the less serious injuries of the officer.
“We are outraged the local police are being allowed to investigate their own case and we are demanding the state attorney general and department of justice get involved,” said Zelman.
Zelman then challenged Chief Alagno of Mount Pleasant Police and District Attorney Janet DiFiore to indentify, within the next 48 hours, the names of the Pleasantville and Mount Pleasant officers that brutalized her clients that just tried to help their dying friend.
“We want the names of the officers who tazered these students,” said Zelman. “We want the name of the policeman who dragged Desmond out from the car and beat him. My clients and the public have a right to know and no one is safe until we do.”
“He (Alagno) has only put the two officers, of which he has had to identify, on administrative duty, if both,” said Zelman, referring to Pleasantville officer Andrew Hess and Mt. Pleasant Officer Ronald Beckley.
“Big deal. They exercised excessive force on innocent student athletes, none of which have ever been in trouble or had a record before. Coming at them with guns drawn has traumatized these men, and we are not backing down until we have justice served. If he is a stand up chief, he should excuse himself of this investigation and withdraw completely of this investigation.”
“If the DA does not take this investigation out of the Westchester police’s hands, and put it in the state polices hands solely, we will go to the governor and if we have to go to President Obama, we will,” Zelman added. “We will not let them get away with the police covering it up and letting these guys go down on false accusations.”
Among the politicians who showed up in support of Zelman and the students were Assemblyman Feliz Ortiz, Councilman Charles Barron, Eric Josey, president of 100 Black Men in Law Enforcement, Anthony Miranda, executive chairman of the National Latino Officers Association, Anthony Mitchell, president of the National Black Police Force-Westchester chapter, and Charles Billups, Chairman of the Grand Council of Guardians.
They all agreed on one thing; the situation did not require the level of force that they chose to use. They stressed that poor police tactics cannot be excused.
“They cannot be trusted to do a thorough investigation on themselves,” said Josey, a retired NYPD officer. “It is a conflict of interest having a close relationship with the district attorney.”
“Where are the people that were involved in the so-called fight that the police were originally called to the location for,” Josey said. “None of these guys were involved in the fight and now they’re being prosecuted on false charges while the other was shot dead.”
“It is not a crime to administer aid to a human being in times of need which those officers forbid at the time,” Zelman said. “We will not rest until justice is served.”
The football team, attorney Zelman and group of supporters walked out of the press room chanting “Justice for DJ.”
Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Alagno spoke at a later news conference releasing the timeline of events pertaining Henry’s medical assistance. This timeline contradicts the statements made by Sussman and students that police and EMT’s arrived 10 to 15 minutes after the first gunshots.
According to Alagno, the timeline was as followed:
- “1:25: Patrol reports shots fired, request EMS
- 1:28: Patrol reports civilian shot
- The following occurred at 1:28 and 1:30, which according to Alagno, some of the events are occurring individually or simultaneously:
- Police observe the grave condition to Danroy Henry.
- A police officer retrieves first aid kit, oxygen unit, automated external defibrillator from a nearby police car.
- Police officer readies a bag valve mask connecting it to the oxygen unit while a civilian administers chest compressions to Danroy Henry.
- A police officer takes over chest compressions from the civilian while another police officer continues administering oxygen to Danroy Henry.
- A police officer attaches an automated external defibrillator to Danroy Henry.
- At 1:30, the first EMT’s arrive at the scene rendering aid to Police Officer Hess (of Pleasantville) and Danroy Henry.
- At 1:31, a paramedic arrives on scene, momentarily checks Police Officer Hess, then goes immediately to Danroy Henry.
- At 1:35, Danroy Henry is loaded onto a stretcher and wheeled into an ambulance.
- While medical aid is being administered to Danroy Henry, another police officer bandages the wound to Brandon Cox’s arm.”
Despite student accounts that DJ was not drinking, an excerpt of the autopsy report conducted by the Westchester County Medical Examiner’s office was anonymously leaked to the Associated Press (AP) stating Henry had a blood alcohol content of 0.13 at death. The legal limit for driving in New York is 0.08.
Sussman did release a statement regarding the autopsy leak.
“…the release of this information is a ‘red herring’ intended to distract the public and media from the real issues: why did the police shoot an unarmed young man who was not engaged in any criminal conduct?…None of the police knew DJ’s blood alcohol level when he was shot from short range, from the hood of his own car. No one had stopped him for a DWI. No one asked him out of the car to do sobriety tests.”
DJ’s father, Danroy Henry Sr., also spoke to a local Boston news station about the leak.
“We as parents, we haven’t even seen an autopsy yet so it’s just amazing to me that somebody close to the investigation would leak this report…It just again smacks of some agenda that is apart from ours, our agenda is to get to the absolute truth, that’s it.”
Pace students wore black on Friday as a protest against police brutality in DJ’s honor as a silent protest occurred at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. Many demonstrators carried white balloons and signs with phrases such as “DJ deserved to live” and “Mt Pleasant PD, Tell the truth!”
The Pace football will play their first game since DJ’s death against New Haven on Oct. 30.
Originally published in the Oct. 27, 2010 edition of The Paw Print.