At a pre-motion conference in federal court today, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas granted Brian Sokoloff, the attorney for Pleasantville Police Officer Aaron Hess, the opportunity to file for a dismissal of all charges against his client within the next 30 days.
Seven peers of Danroy "DJ" Henry—the Pace University student and Easton native who was shot to death by police at the Thornwood Shopping Center on Oct. 17, 2010—have filed lawsuits against Hess, along with the case's associated municipalities and several local officials.
Joseph Romanick, Daniel Parker, Desmond Hinds, Rebecca Gallo, Joseph Garcia and Yves Delpeche all appeared in court for the proceedings today and stood alongside their attorney Bonita Zelman for press statements before and after the conference. Martin LaRoche, a resident of Florida, did not appear.
Aaron Hess did not appear in person today. Sokoloff declined to comment on Hess' health.
In May, Sokoloff filed a letter with the court that contested the allegations against Hess by Zelman. In the letter, he stated Zelman's claims of Hess' alleged excessive force, failure to intercede, conspiracy, neglect to prevent and giving false statements were all unfounded.
"Her theory doesn't fly," he told Karas today.
While Karas contested Zelman's claim that the scene of the incident involving police using "excessive force" following Hess' fired shots is "a common scenario," he also challenged Sokoloff, stating, "I just don't see how it's so implausible."
Zelman said today's proceedings were a "victory" for her clients.
"We are allowed to go forward against Aaron Hess at this moment for precipitating and igniting the brutality after he killed Danroy Henry Jr., the brutality on the part of the other officers that responded to the scene," she said outside the courthouse following the conference. "And, as you heard the judge say, I will get the opportunity to question Aaron Hess under oath."
Michael Sussman, the attorney for DJ Henry's parents Danroy Sr. and Angella sat with Zelman and three other associated attorneys during the proceedings. He also addressed Karas and indicated he hopes to schedule a deposition in August.
Attorneys representing the Village of Pleasantville, Town of Mount Pleasant, Westchester County and former Pleasantville Chief of Police Anthony Chiarlitti also appeared for the conference, but did not speak.
Karas attempted to dissuade Sokoloff from moving forward with a motion to dismiss, stating, "If you win the motion or not, we will be in the same place."
"I'm really trying to be efficient," Karas said.
However, Sokoloff did not concede to the judge's inclination and told reporters following the conference, "[Zelman] hasn't met her burden, even at this early stage of the litigation."
A Westchester County grand jury failed to indict Hess during a hearing last February.
Once the defense's motion is filed, Zelman will have 30 days to respond.