THORNWOOD, N.Y. (CBS 2/WCBS 880/1010 WINS/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.
Danroy “D.J.” Henry, 20, had just played for Pace University in front of screaming fans during its homecoming against Stonehill College of Easton, Mass. — the junior defensive player’s hometown. Hours later, hysterical students screamed on the sidewalk around his dying, handcuffed body.
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Catherine Cioffi with remembrances
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reports
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Catherine Cioffi on stunned police officers
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron reports on the shooting
The New York State Police joined Monday in an investigation of the events involving three local police officers early Sunday, which a chief of one of the departments called “horrendous.” The victim’s family and friends were skeptical of the account of events police gave.
CBS 2’s Lou Young reported that some of Henry’s friends said police went too far.
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 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 parents said it was a simple misunderstanding that police misinterpreted as an assault.
“A police officer tapped on the window, they thought they were being asked to move as they were parked outside in a fire lane and they left. The next thing they know, there’s a police officer jumping from behind a car with his gun drawn and he starts shooting,” Arnold Cox said.
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, Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis 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.
Fellow officers suggested Hess may have had little choice.
“I am not aware of any written protocol that tells an officer what to do when he’s been run down by a motor vehicle. I don’t think there is one out there,” Mt. Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno 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.
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 body in the midst of flashing police lights and screaming students clutching themselves against the night chill.
Samantha DeRosa, a sophomore at Pace was in the middle of Sunday’s chaos.
“DJ’s mother needs to know that her son is not a criminal, and what happened that night was an accident,” DeRosa said.
DeRosa called it an accident and an overreaction by police. She said Henry tried to stop and heard his brakes screeching, CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported.
“The cop tried to stop him, and he hit the cop, and the cop was on the hood of the car, and you saw the cop banging with his flashlight, and the car just keep rolling, and then he fired his gun 3 times into the windshield of the car,” DeRosa said.
“What happened that night was not a crime, it was a scared kid trying to get out of there as soon as he could because he didn’t want to get in trouble.”
“And DJ’s body just rolled out of the car, and DJ was just laying there on the pavement, and they put him in handcuffs, saying don’t move, he couldn’t move, there was no way that he could move,” DeRosa said.
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.
“A lot of witnesses” disagree with the preliminary police account, his father, Danroy Henry Sr., told the Brockton Enterprise of Massachusetts on Monday, “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 said. “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 hand-working 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.”
Wesley Paul, the principal of Henry’s high school, called him a “great young man” that represented “all that’s good in today’s youth.”
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.”
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