Friday, November 12, 2010
911 calls of D.J. Henry shooting secret
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- A judge has refused to release 911 calls and other evidence to the parents of a college football player who was shot and killed by police, saying they failed to include any firsthand account of what happened.
Danroy and Angella Henry of Easton, Mass., had requested access to any audio and video recordings relevant to the death of their son, Danroy "D.J." Henry Jr.
Danroy Henry Sr. said he didn't consider the ruling a setback.
"The law isn't a grieving parent," he said during a telephone news conference. "Just because we want to see something to really help us get down to the truth, unfortunately it's clear to us that isn't how the law is written."
"We'll accept it ... and continue our fight toward the truth," he added.
Henry's son, a Pace University student, was killed in his car on Oct. 17 during a disturbance outside a bar in the New York City suburb of Thornwood, near the Pace campus. Police said the 20-year-old sped away and hit two officers after a third officer knocked on his car window. Some witnesses and the family dispute that account and a grand jury investigation has begun.
The Westchester County district attorney's office had argued against the Henrys' request, saying the evidence must be kept secret until it is presented to the grand jury.
The parents' lawyer, Michael Sussman, said in court that 911 recordings and surveillance footage would help the parents learn what happened to their son and would help them decide whether to sue. He said he would be willing to not make them public.
In his decision, dated Tuesday but made public Friday, state Supreme Court Justice Orazio Bellantoni did not specifically address grand jury secrecy. He said any request for early release of evidence must be supported by an affidavit from "someone with firsthand knowledge of the facts." He said Sussman's argument was instead based on "facts either told to or read by him."
News organizations have also been denied access to the evidence, on the grounds that the investigation is continuing.
Sussman said he still hopes the district attorney's office will provide the recordings to the Henrys.
"The fact they're not ordered to make them available does not mean they cannot voluntarily make them available," he said.
Sussman also said he could have provided a witness affidavit but felt that might impede the grand jury investigation.
"The last thing we want to do is in any way jeopardize that indictment, should it happen, and that prosecution," Sussman said. "At some point we will get the information."
And he said he's not sure there is any recording that is "necessarily going to be conclusive as to what happened. ... There may not be any video of exactly what happened. We'll have to see."
The Henrys came to White Plains on Monday for a hearing on the motion, but did not speak in court. Angella Henry wore large buttons bearing photos of their son.
The Henrys and their lawyer met afterward with District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who is coordinating the investigation.
Sussman said the meeting was cordial but did not change their view that a federal investigation is warranted because the police forces involved in the shooting -- Mount Pleasant's and Pleasantville's -- work closely with DiFiore.
He also is seeking a determination of whether racial bias or stereotyping played a role. The officers who fired at Henry's car are white; Henry was black.
The U.S. attorney's office said Oct. 26 that it was monitoring the case and would undertake an independent review "if appropriate."