Updated: Henry Family Files Federal Lawsuit Against Shooting Officer
Pleasantville, NY and one of its police officers, Aaron Hess, are named in a federal lawsuit that will be filed by the Henry family today.
The family of Danroy "DJ" Henry, the 20-year-old Pace University student and Oliver Ames High School graduate shot to to death outside of Finnegan's Grill in Thornwood, NY last October, is suing the Village of Pleasantville and Pleasantville Police Officer Aaron Hess, their attorney announced today.
"It has been filed," Michael Sussman, the family's attorney, told reporters outside of the U.S. District Courthouse in White Plains, NY Wednesday afternoon, stating the next step will be a conference "with a couple of months" involving the presiding justice, who will then set a timetable for discovery.
While Sussman said this type of lawsuit is typically dismissed, he asserted he does not believe this complaint will be.
The family first filed a notice of claim in the amount of $120 million in January with the village of Pleasantville, as well as the Town of Mount Pleasant.
The Henrys said outside of their Easton, MA, home Wednesday afternoon that the purpose of the lawsuit was to bring accountability to Hess and his municipality.
In a statement released today, Pleasantville Mayor Peter Scherer said, "...we believe the suit is without merit and that neither the Village nor Officer Aaron Hess violated any laws or rules of conduct. We intend to vigorously defend the Village and Officer Aaron Hess."
"There needs to be punishment," Angella Henry, DJ Henry's mother said. "We would pay money to have our son back. There is no dollar amount that would fill the void."
In a press release today, Sussman, the family's attorney, stated,
"...it is apparent that others acted in grossly irresponsible manners on October 17, 2010. These parties should be held to account for their failures. However, the Henrys are convinced that these actions did NOT CAUSE the death of their son and that Aaron Hess, as an agent of the Village of Pleasantville, did so. For this reason, their suit names these, and only these defendants."
Henry's father, Danroy Sr., said the purpose of the claim was to fulfuill New York state requirements. He said the dollar amount of the lawsuit would be "at the mercy of the jurors."
In a statement from the Henrys affixed to the complaint, Danroy and Angella Henry address the recent news that Hess was named Officer of the Year by the Pleasantville Police Benevolent Association.
According to a statement released by Matthew Listwan, president of the union, "The PBA membership unanimously voted to present the Award of to Officer Hess as an expression of the memberships' support for Officer Hess."
Listwan added the award was given to Hess at a "private dinner party on one of the first occasions Officer Hess has been physically able to attend such an event."
He added, "The PBA did not seek to create a public spectacle of this Award or to offend the Henry family, whose continuing grief is obvious and understandable. The source of disclosure of this award remains unknown to us."
While Danroy Henry Sr. said the lawsuit was not a reaction to Hess' recent honor of "Officer of the Year," the award did "speak to the arrogance" the family had been facing since the beginning.
Listwan said Hess, who has yet to return to work, "has conducted himself throughout this ordeal, and most particularly, the very difficult aftermath of this tragic incident," in a "dignified and professional manner."
However, the complaint to be filed on behalf of the Henrys states, "This shooting occurred under circumstances evincing a reckless disregard for human life, most specifically the life of Danroy Henry, Jr." and "Defendant Aaron Hess had no reasonable basis to stop or seize or jump in front of the vehicle being driven by Danroy Henry, Jr."
Further, the lawsuit says, "Defendant Hess' blatant violations of stated departmental policy demonstrate that the Village of Pleasantville failed to properly train and supervise defendant Hess, contributing to the deprivation of decedent's rights and his wrongful death," by violating his 14th amendment rights.
Danroy Henry Sr. also said that filing a lawsuit should make evidence public the family said had been withheld previously, including audio evidence, video evidence and Hess' personal files.
"We look forward to having more access to information that is relevant and is important to further strengthen the view that our son was wrongfully killed that night," he said.
After filing the lawsuit this afternoon, Sussman said he hopes the action and ongoing federal investigation will shed light on unanswered questions.
"We haven't been able to get all the facts of the case," he said. "There's a certain salvation to telling the truth."
The federal lawsuit is in addition to a criminal investigation being conducted by the Department of Justice, which was taken over by the federal government after a Westchester County grand jury did not issue an indictment against Hess.
Danroy Sr. said he is hopeful that the federal government's investigation will be "more thorough" than the county's investigation.
Sussman said the "perfect ending" to the case would be "for the truth to emerge from [Hess'] own mouth."
Scherer, however, on behalf of the village, wrote, "We look forward to vindicating the Village and Officer Hess and to moving forward from this tragic event."