Thursday, March 24, 2011
D.J. Henry's teammates cleared
VALHALLA, N.Y. -- As soon as the charges against them were dropped Thursday, a group of college football players switched from defense to offense, saying they plan to sue the police who arrested them after a teammate was killed by an officer.
Their lawyer, Bonita Zelman, said they would seek at least $1 million for "brutality, false arrest, malicious prosecution and violations of their civil, constitutional and human rights."
The four Pace University players were arrested Oct. 17 in the chaos that followed the shooting of Danroy "D.J." Henry, 20, of Easton, Mass. Henry was driving away from a disturbance outside a bar in Thornwood, N.Y., when his car struck an officer, who shot through the windshield and killed him.
Each of the teammates was charged with criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest or obstruction. They claimed they were trying to help Henry as he lay dying.
Henry's killing resulted in an investigation into the officer's actions, but last month a grand jury declined to indict him. The Justice Department said it would review the case for possible civil rights violations. Henry was black; the police officers involved were white.
Two weeks ago, prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges against the teammates, saying the defendants had no legal excuse but caused no injuries and were reacting to "the sudden, unexpected shooting of their friend."
In court, Mount Pleasant Town Justice Robert Ponzini approved the dismissals and told the defendants, "You leave here as the day you came in, without a criminal record." Two dozen supporters applauded in the gallery.
"I feel relieved. I feel free," said Joseph Garcia, of Floral Park, N.Y., who graduated in December and had been charged with obstruction. "I don't have to worry about a criminal record."
Joseph Romanick, of Slidell, La., who had been charged with felony criminal mischief, said, "Hopefully we'll go forward and get justice."
The other players are Yves Delpeche, of Brooklyn, and Daniel Parker, of Lauderhill, Fla.
Zelman called the dismissal "a great victory" that would support her claim of brutality. She said video of the aftermath of Henry's shooting shows "multiple police with their guns out and drawn on innocent students." She said the four football players were being joined by four other plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit against Westchester County, the Town of Mount Pleasant and the Village of Pleasantville, all of which had officers at the scene.
County spokeswoman Donna Greene declined to comment. Michael Hagan, president of the union for county police, called the students' claims "ridiculous" and said the lawsuit was a "shameless attempt to have the taxpayers of Westchester County reward them for their illegal activity."
Messages left with the municipalities were not immediately returned.
Danroy Henry's mother, Angella Henry, appeared at the courthouse after the session and congratulated the four players. She said they tried to save her son's life and "there's no way they should have been punished."
She and her husband are also planning to sue.