THE US Justice Department’s decision last week to investigate the October killing by police in New York of a Pace University junior from Easton offers fresh hope of establishing the facts of a tragedy that still remains mysterious. The inquiry, which will focus on whether the student’s civil rights were violated, was announced almost immediately after a Westchester County grand jury cleared municipal police of any wrongdoing. A federal review is an important check in situations where local court systems may have paid undue deference to local law enforcement.
Authorities claimed that Danroy Henry Jr., a Pace football defensive back, was shot after he struck two officers with his car in speeding away from a bar, where police had been called to quell a post-game disturbance. Witnesses said the 20-year-old was merely following police orders to move his car, only to have one officer leap onto the hood to fire through the windshield. Some witnesses said Henry was left bleeding in handcuffs for an inordinate amount of time. Further complicating the case were a disputed toxicology report indicating that Henry was drunk and suspicions that racial profiling by white officers affected their treatment of Henry, who was black.
Given vastly different accounts of what happened, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown called for a thorough investigation. “Good kid, no record, nothing,’’ Brown put it. “And to end his life under these circumstances, I think it’s important to get the facts and get them quickly.’’
There is no guarantee the Justice Department will find that Henry’s civil rights were violated, as the bar for violations is extremely high. Yet regardless of the result, further scrutiny of the case by federal investigators should result in a resolution that the public can trust.