Lawyer says slain student was sober
N.Y. police accused of giving the media faulty information
The lawyer for the family of a popular Easton football player, who was fatally shot by New York police last weekend, lashed out yesterday over an anonymous leak to media alleging the athlete was legally drunk before being shot, saying it shows how this high-profile case is becoming a public-relations war.
Michael Sussman maintained that 20-year-old Danroy “DJ’’ Henry Jr., who played for Pace University in Pleasantville, N.Y., was sober and a “designated driver’’ just before his death, and that any tests of his blood may be inaccurate because they were taken from a dead body. An Associated Press report Friday quoted an anonymous law enforcement source saying that Henry’s blood-alcohol concentration was 0.13 percent. In New York, it is illegal to drive with a level above 0.08.
“There’s questions about the accuracy of those computations,” said Sussman, a prominent civil-rights lawyer, in a telephone interview from his office in Goshen, N.Y.
Sussman blamed the local police for leaking potentially erroneous information to the media and reiterated his call for the US Department of Justice to launch its own review into the tumultuous weekend that included a homecoming game between Pace University and Stonehill College, a raucous celebration at a bar — and then a police shooting that ended in the death of Henry.
On Friday — which would have been Henry’s 21st birthday — he will be eulogized at a service to be held at 2 p.m. at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Summer Street.
Police officials in Mount Pleasant, N.Y., have defended the shootings as self-defense, saying Henry, who was in the driver’s seat of a parked car outside the bar, had tried to speed away when approached by police. But civil rights lawyers say that numerous Pace University students who were at the bar have asserted that Henry did not try to flee, and that they were even blocked from helping Henry, who was dying and handcuffed.
These witnesses said the critically injured Henry was left unattended by medical crews for about 15 minutes, while help went to the police officers. Some have said they were intimidated by the police from speaking the truth of what they saw.
“They’re just students looking for a good education, and now they’re traumatized,’’ lawyer Bonita Zelman, who is representing nearly a dozen Pace University students, said by phone yesterday.
Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno, who was not accepting media calls yesterday, has vowed to conduct an impartial inquiry into the use of deadly force by his officers, and insisted that medical crews helped Henry within several minutes. He has declined to address accusations that race was a factor in the shooting: The officers who fired were white; Henry, and the two occupants in his car, were members of minority groups.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Westchester district attorney’s office, which is involved in the investigation, said yesterday that he is confident that a thorough, fair investigation will be conducted. He said his office is awaiting the full autopsy report.
“It’s the early stages of an unfolding investigation,’’ said Lucian Chalfen.
Police and witnesses have provided differing accounts of the shooting that occurred around 1 a.m. last Sunday near a strip mall. Police had been summoned to a fight that had broken out at Finnegan’s Grill.
Police in Mount Pleasant, N.Y., where the bar is located, have said that a police officer tapped the window of the car Henry was driving, and that he sped off toward another officer. That officer ended up on the hood and fired, they said. Another officer also fired, according to police, though it is unclear which bullet killed Henry.
The police union has defended the officers’ actions.
Witnesses have said, however, that Henry thought the officer was asking him to move out of a fire lane when he tapped on the window, and that police officer Aaron Hess jumped in front of the car. Henry had no time to stop, witnesses said, and Hess jumped on the hood and started firing.
One of the witnesses who has given this account is Brandon Cox, 20, a childhood friend of Henry’s from Easton who plays for the Stonehill College team, and was a passenger in the car. Cox was shot in the arm by a bullet, but was not seriously injured.
Sussman said he cannot understand any situation that justified the shooting of Henry.
“Why did the police shoot an unarmed young man who was not engaged in any criminal conduct?’’ he asked.
He said none of the police involved in the shooting had any reason to believe Henry was intoxicated at the time, and he has witnesses who said that Henry was inside the bar at the time dancing and refusing drinks.
Meanwhile, friends and family of Henry are preparing for his funeral service. Donna Parks, the mother of Cox, said yesterday her son is among those preparing to eulogize Henry at the service Friday. A large crowd is expected.
She said her son, a junior at Stonehill, will take off from his classes this week just to cope with the flood of emotions in losing his dear childhood friend, and being shot himself.
“He can’t concentrate,’’ she said.