For many, today may just be another Monday, but to the Henry family, Oct. 17 serves as a reminder of the day their lives changed forever; it marks the day their son, Danroy Henry Jr., or DJ, as they called him, was shot to death “unreasonably” by a white police officer.
It all took place just one year ago today in the early morning outside of Finnegan’s Bar and Grill in Thornwood, N.Y.
Twenty-year-old Henry and his Pace University football team had lost their homecoming football game hours earlier. In the aftermath, Henry’s fate turned deadly.
Police were summoned to the tavern because of a reported disturbance. Henry was leaving the scene when his vehicle struck Pleasantville, N.Y., police officer Aaron Hess, who fired his gun through Henry’s windshield, fatally wounding the Easton, Mass., student.
Many of the tragic incident's details have been hotly disputed by the Henry family and the police. And today, the Henrys are still searching for answers in a case in which they say too much evidence has been tampered with or kept secret.
“There was a lot of what we consider to be 'questionable practice' here,” Danroy Henry Sr. tells BET.com. “They claim the [officers’] dash cams weren’t operating that night at that moment. His car, we believe, was tampered with; it was sanitized to make it difficult to determine the trajectories of the bullets fired. His phone was used twice after it was evidenced, and after he was already gone. The autopsy we believe was tampered with. And we believe there were other things that were manipulated here.”
Since their son’s death, Henry’s parents say that the Pleasantville police department and the district attorney have been extremely uncooperative and have not returned some of Henry’s possessions from the car, such as a jersey he had purchased as a birthday gift for his younger brother.
They say it feels as if no one is getting to the root of what really happened. In one court appearance, the district attorney is defending the officers and, in another, her assistant is prosecuting them. Officer Hess is cleared of any charges of wrongdoing and, months later, the man who shot their son receives an 'officer of the year' award from a police group. It just doesn’t make sense, they say.
“We would have accepted from the beginning a simple story supported by fact and evidence,” Henry Sr. says. What we’ve gotten instead is manipulation, tampering, arrogance and, now, a refusal to answer any legitimate questions. The effort to keep secret [the] fact[s] and truth and evidence here is just mind boggling ... What are you hiding?”
Because they have not received answers, the Henrys have taken matters into their own hands. They started investigating on their own dime and filed a $120 million lawsuit against Hess and the police department, joined by the family of Brandon Cox, who was sitting next to Henry in his car when he was shot to death.
“We’re right now in the process of issuing subpoenas for both audio and video from that night,” says Angella Henry. “The D.A.’s office has announced publicly that she will not cooperate. So we’re trying to get as much access as we can to the audio and video.”
Throughout their ups and downs, the Henrys say they remain prayerful. Working on the DJ Dream Fund, a non-profit sports organization dedicated to the memory of their son, also gives them strength.
On today’s anniversary, the family plans to participate in vigils honoring their son, but they don’t want to exhaust themselves, as they anticipate a very difficult day for both them and their two younger children.
Despite their anguish, they say that they are resolved to continue the fight for the son that they describe as hardworking, compassionate, faithful and ready to serve. He was a great man of fashion and style, they say, with a good sense of humor and a beautiful smile.
“The pain in losing a child is incomprehensible. There are no words for it. And, to add, on top of that, the fact that we still can’t get answers and we’re still fighting every day for answers, no family should have to endure that,” Mrs. Henry says. “We want to make sure we can do what we can to prevent this from happening again.”
UPDATE: On Monday, about three dozen relatives and friends of DJ gathered outside a sports complex in the slain football player's hometown of Easton, Massachusetts to dedicate an athletic field named in DJ’s honor on the first anniversary of his death.
To contact or share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.
(Photo: AP /Stephan Savoia)
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