A federal judge ruled today that police material from the night of—and investigation that followed—Easton native Danroy “DJ” Henry’s death in Thornwood, NY will be publicly released as the case’s federal investigation continues.
Magistrate Judge George A. Yanthis ruled that key elements of the case previously withheld will now be released to the public, including detective's notes associated with the shooting, video and audio of police interviews with witnesses, 911 calls, more than 100 witness statements and police radio transmissions on the night of the shooting.
Henry, a 20-year-old Pace University student, was shot and killed by Pleasantville and Mount Pleasant, NY police in the early morning hours of Oct. 17, 2010 while in his car in front of Finnegan’s Bar in the Thornwood Shopping Center.
"This is a significant victory for transparency and for the public right to now," said Michael Sussman, an attorney who is representing the Henry family.
Yanthis also ruled the names of witnesses who interviewed with police will be released, but their personal information withheld. The names of witnesses who declined interviews with police will not be released.
The family of the college football player and Easton native native, have called the incident murder and are currently seeking a federal probe in the case.
"For us, it’s not a victory, but it is a step in the right direction," Henry's mother Angella Henry said. "Because, we don’t get our son back no matter what, but allows us to be able to prove what we’ve known from day one is that our son did nothing wrong.
Last February, a grand jury failed to indict the town and village police officers involved in the fatal shooting.
"We have a meeting coming up with the Dept. of Justice and our ultimate goal is that Aaron Hess is indicted for murder and faces jail time," Angella Henry said.
Nine other civil rights lawsuits are also pending relating to that evening, including ones filed by friends of Henry who were at the scene. Pleasantville, Mount Pleasant and Westchester County have also been targeted by allies of Henry, claiming police brutality.
Following the hearing this afternoon, Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno said, "I'm not aware of the decision," adding, "It is town policy that we do not comment on matters that are pending litigation."
Pleasantville Police Chief Richard Love was not immediately available for comment.
Bonita E. Zelman, who is representing seven college students alleging police brutality in civil suits, joined Sussman at the courthouse steps following the decision.
"This is a precedent for the future," said Zelman. "We finally got justice from this federal court today."
Sussman said the information will be released publicly in the days to come and did not release details about what the records will reveal. Although there is no video surveillance of the actual shooting that he is aware of at this time, he said the information will help paint a more clear picture of the events that unfolded the night of the shooting, including the speed of Henry's car when he was shot.
"There is a huge amount of information," he said. "More than I've seen in 10 cases put together."
In court, attorneys representing the Town of Mount Pleasant had argued that the identities and accounts from witnesses at the scene should be shielded to protect their privacy. Attorneys also noted that releasing detailed information could deter witnesses from coming forward to police during future interrogations.
Yanthis, however, sided with the plaintiffs after less than 10 minutes of deliberation in ruling that the burden of proof requiring a defined threat of serious injury caused by the release of the information was not met.
"There is no reason why the material there should not be in the public domain," Sussman argued in court, noting that because of the media interest in the case select information had already been leaked to the public.
The materials, to be made public within the next few days, had been handed over to the attorneys involved in the civil lawsuits, but a confidentiality order had shielded them from being made public.
The next court hearing has been scheduled for April 4. In the mean-time, the Henry family has continued to work with its non-profit organization, the DJ Dream Fund in an effort to provide funding and equipment for underprivilaged athletes. On the same day as the court decision (Thursday), the family awarded 22 scholarships.
"It’s a blessing," Angella Henry said. "We’re happy to be able to do that and reach out to kids through Danny’s name."