Local police shot and killed a college football star, Danroy Henry, in New York, but witnesses say the police story is not accurate and they demand justice.
Seth Harrison/The Journal News/AP
A college football player parked in a fire lane outside a bar sped away from police rapping on his car window, hit an officer who clung to the hood as the sedan barreled toward a colleague, and was killed by a burst of police gunfire that pierced his windshield, authorities said.
But the father of a passenger in the car said Monday that the driver headed away because he thought police wanted him to move — and he denied that an officer was struck by the car.
Danroy "D.J." Henry, 20, had just played for Pace University in front of screaming fans during its homecoming football game against Stonehill College of Easton, Mass. — the junior defensive player's hometown. Hours later, hysterical students screamed on the sidewalk outside a strip mall as authorities tried to revive the wounded Henry, who at first had been handcuffed.
The New York State Police joined Monday in an investigation of the events involving three local police officers early Sunday. The victim's family and friends were skeptical of the account of events police gave.
Brandon Cox, a passenger in Henry's car who was grazed by a police bullet, said he and the victim's family "won't rest until we get justice for D.J." He called Henry his best friend.
"In my heart, what went on that night ... it didn't need to come to that," Cox, who played for Stonehill, said at a news conference outside his family's home in Easton. "Whether we were trying to drive away or not ... there was no need for any of that to happen. I do feel that we were victimized in that my friend's life was taken for no reason."
Cox's father, Thomas Parks, said Henry thought a police officer who knocked on the window of the car wanted them to move so he started driving forward.
He said Henry and Cox then saw an officer climb onto the hood and fire into the car.
The two were not involved in the fight that drew police to the scene, Parks said, and said police have not contacted them.
A disturbance at Finnegan's Grill, wedged between a pizza place and an Asian restaurant in a strip mall in the suburban Westchester County hamlet of Thornwood, spilled into the parking lot, and police from Pleasantville and Mount Pleasant were called.
Henry's Nissan Altima was parked in a fire lane as officers arrived. When an officer knocked on his window, and with a passenger in his car, Henry stepped on the gas, Alagno said.
"For no reason, the vehicle sped away," Alagno said at a news conference. "I can't describe to you why the driver did what he did."
Pleasantville Officer Aaron Hess tried to stop the car, was struck and "ended up on the hood," Alagno said. Hess drew his pistol and fired into the vehicle, the chief said.
Mount Pleasant Officer Ronald Beckley also fired at the car as it neared him in the fire lane, Alagno said. Another Mount Pleasant officer, Carl Castagna, was also struck; none of the three officers was seriously injured. A back-seat passenger in Henry's car also was unhurt, Alagno said.
The Nissan, still in the fire lane, crashed into a patrol car and stopped. Officers then handcuffed Henry, but "on seeing his condition they uncuffed him" and treated him, including with a defibrillator, Alagno said.
A student's cell phone video recording of the aftermath appears to show people performing chest compression on a person in the midst of flashing police lights and screaming students clutching themselves against the night chill.
The passenger suffered a graze wound, and it wasn't clear whose bullet killed Henry. Police are gathering "all available video" from nearby stores, Alagno said.
The gray sedan sat Sunday outside the restaurant with three bullet holes in the windshield, its driver's-side front wheel askew and dents in the front panel.
A candlelight vigil was held Sunday evening at the school's Pleasantville campus, which Henry attended.
"A lot of witnesses" disagree with the preliminary police account, his father, Danroy Henry Sr., told the Brockton Enterprise of Massachusetts on Sunday, "so we need to get to the bottom of it."
He and the victim's mother, Angela, had watched their son play in Pace's homecoming game Saturday in front of about 500 people.
"There's no script for this," his father told The Associated Press on Monday. "Please give us a day. At some point we will make ourselves available, but right now we are mourning our son."
Cox, who wouldn't elaborate on the events of Sunday morning on his lawyer's advice, said he was "heartbroken."
"We were very close," Cox said. "We spent all our summers together. We worked out together. We got ready for football together. We laughed ... we rejoiced together."
Former Oliver Ames High School head coach Mike Yurof, who coached Henry from his freshman to junior years in Easton, told The Associated Press that the victim was a hardworking player who never complained or questioned coaches.
"He had a great work ethic (and) good attitude toward the game," Yurof said. "I honestly never had a problem with him in three years of coaching him. ... It's just an unbelievable shock."
Yurof said Henry, also known as "D.J.," played wide receiver.
On the Pace campus, four of Henry's teammates — all sporting Mohawk haircuts that Henry had administered — called him inspirational. They said he had given up the "sexier" position of receiver to be a defensive back for the good of the team.
Pace is winless so far this year, and teammate Jonfrey Sanchez said Henry had suggested the mohawks, saying, "Let's do something different."
Coach Chris Dapolito said of Henry, "Since the time I've known him, he has never been in trouble."
Though police in general may use deadly force to protect themselves from the same, Alagno said, "I'm not aware of any written protocol that tells an officer what to do after he's been run down by a motor vehicle."
The state police and Westchester County crime scene experts are investigating, along with the office of Westchester prosecutor Janet DiFiore.
Alagno on Sunday called the shooting "horrendous" and added: "It's something that I would hope would never have happened here, but unfortunately it did, and we'll proceed with a very, very thorough investigation."
The town of Mount Pleasant has a population of about 44,000 people and is located in suburban Westchester County, about 30 miles north of New York.
Alagno, whose force has 44 officers, said it had been many years since a Mount Pleasant officer had fired his gun. As far as he knew, no police officer in the town had ever killed anyone before.