Pleasantville, NY Police Officer Aaron Hess was grilled in federal court this month as part of the ongoing lawsuits filed by multiple parties following the death of Pace University student and Easton native Danroy "DJ" Henry on Oct. 17, 2010 in Thornwood.
"I believed it was going to stop because every other vehicle I've asked to stop in my career has stopped," Hess told Michael Sussman, the attorney for Henry's parents, Angella and Danroy Sr. of Easton.
Hess, who appeared at the White Plains U.S. courthouse for the closed-door deposition beginning on August 14, confirmed to Sussman that the only other statement he had given to date following the shooting was to the Pleasantville's Police Benevolent Association (PBA) attorney John Grant.
A Westchester County grand jury failed to indict Hess in the fatal shooting of the 20-year-old college student last year. The Henrys then filed a civil lawsuit, naming Hess and the Village of Pleasantville.
The entire deposition transcript—more than 200 pages long—was released this evening by Sussman's office. However, some portions of the testimony have been deemed confidential.
During the questioning, Hess described the scene as he entered the Thornwood Shopping Center, where Finnegan's Bar & Grill was currently located—stating he saw a group "acting aggressively."
Hess told Sussman he first observed a vehicle "who was parked in the fire lane take off from a standing position. Officer—who I learned later—Gagnon, seemed to me to be knocked off balance. And then I heard Officer Gagnon say, 'Stop that vehicle' or 'Stop that car.'"
He testified that he saw the car going "fast" while he was in the roadway. Hess stated,
"As the vehicle was approaching, I put up my left hand, yelled for the vehicle to stop. By the time I realized the vehicle wasn't going to stop, I didn't have a chance to go left, right, and if I stood on the balls of my feet, I was going to be run over. So as the vehicle was coming towards me, I lunged forward as it hit my legs. At that time as I was on the hood, the engine revved up again and seemingly seemed it to me that was trying to get thrown off the vehicle. At that time is when I — I fired my weapon."
Hess told Sussman he believes he filed his gun "between three and four" times on Oct. 17, 2010—later clarifying, "I believe it was four."
Thursday night via twitter, DJ Henry's parents Danroy Henry Sr. and Angella Henry pointed to a portion of the deposition in which Hess confirmed that he pulled his gun and pointed it to the vehicle prior to landing on the car's hood.
"Don't overlook that Hess said he HAD his weapon OUT & he crossed the double yellow line INTO the path of DJ's car. Why? No good reason!," Angella Henry tweeted.
The exchange between Sussman and Hess stated:
Q: As you saw the vehicle approach did you take the weapon out of your holster?
Q: And as the vehicle approached you, what did you do with your weapon, if anything?
A: I drew it towards the vehicle.
Q: Pointed it toward the vehicle?
Q: Did you point it toward any particular part of the vehicle?
A: I don’t recall.
Q: Did you shoot as the vehicle was approaching?
In the early portions of the Sussman's questioning, his inquiries ranged from asking Hess to discuss his educational background (the officer is a 1995 Pleasantville High School graduate and served in the Marine Corps from 1996 to 2000) to whether or not the police K-9 Roxx accompanied him on the call to Finnegan's Bar and & Grill in the Thornwood Shopping Center the night of Henry's death.
According to Hess' sworn statements, he served as a New York City police officer before joining the Pleasantville Police Department in 2003.
Sussman also drew a link, through his questions, to Hess' hiring in the village department to his father's previous role as village administrator.
When Sussman asked Hess about his NYPD raining "with regard to the discharge of your weapon, the intentional discharge of your weapon at a moving vehicle, when that was deemed appropriate, when that was deemed appropriate, when it was not appropriate?" Hess responded, "From what I recall is you are not to discharge your firearm at a moving vehicle."
Hess testified that he landed with his stomach down on the hood of Henry's moving car, with his left hand extended and grabbing the hood. He held his gun in the right hand, he stated.
Sussman asked if Hess was able to see the vehicle's driver from the hood, to which he replied, "No."
"Who did you aim at?" Sussman asked.
"The center mass of the driver," said Hess. "I saw the silhouette. I ddin't physicaly see a driver or who it was. I wouldn't be able to describe who was driving that vehicle."
Hess said he was thrown from the hood of Henry's car after it collided with another car. He reportedly sustained a knee injury that has kept him from working since the incident.
"After I was thrown from the vehicle, I rolled in towards where my car was on that side of the road, because I thought the car was still coming, and once I had finished rolling and I stopped, that's when I felt the pain," he described.
Danroy and Angella Henry also appeared in court to observe the deposition, along with the several Pace University students who have filed a lawsuit claiming they were brutalized by police officers at the scene.
In July, the attorneys involved in the lawsuits pending against Hess met in court to discuss Hess' attorney Brian Sokoloff 's request to have the cases dropped. Judge Kenneth Karas said he would allow Sokoloff 30 days to file such a request—and Bonita Zelman, the attorney representing the Pace students, 30 days to respond.
Following the August 14, session Angella Henry said on Facebook, "Today we took a step forward in our fight for justice. We looked at the person who took our sons life in the eyes but he didn't look back. We sat and listened to him and to many I don't recalls, I can't remember, I'm not sure. But what's most telling is that he confirmed truth."
View the attached .pfs for the full deposition.
Patrick Maguire contributed to this report.