Danroy Henry's Family Still Want Answers On Anniversary Of Deadly Police Shooting (VIDEO)
It has been a year since police in a small town in Westchester County, New York, shot and killed Danroy Henry Jr. But for Henry's family, each day seems every bit the same as the one before it.
"The reality of what we are dealing with is that we are stuck in many ways on October 17, 2010," Danroy Henry Sr. said. "We're stuck there. We haven't moved on from that date. We've been stuck in this battle to get clarity and an admission as to why DJ isn't here with us anymore. Until we have that, in many ways time has stood still for us."
Danroy "DJ" Henry was a 20-year-old Pace University football player from the Boston suburb of Easton, Mass., who was shot and killed outside of a bar in Thornwood, N.Y. The shooting has been mired in controversy and drew national attention amid allegations of racial bias and lawyers' assertions that the police department's close ties to the District Attorney's office had compromised the investigation of the shooting.
Accounts of the killing vary, but this much is known: Henry was sitting with two friends in his Nissan Altima outside of a bar in Thornwood when an officer approached his car and motioned for him to pull away from a fire lane. Moments later, as Henry moved forward, Officer Aaron Hess of the Pleasantville Police Department jumped onto the hood of the vehicle. At some point Hess unholstered his weapon and fired through the windshield. A second officer at the scene also fired into the vehicle. Henry was fatally shot. A passenger was struck in the arm.
Police say that Henry tried to mow down the officer, and that Hess was protecting his life and the lives of other officers at the scene. But witnesses have reported that Hess jumped onto the hood of the car before firing into it. While patrol cars from the responding departments were equipped with dashboard cameras, officials have said the cameras were turned off or inoperable during the incident. And a judge later refused to release the 911 calls and other evidence to the Henrys, saying that they failed to include any firsthand account of the incident.
In February, a grand jury declined to indict Hess or any other officers involved in the shooting. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the killing, and the Henry family has since taken steps to file a lawsuit against Mount Pleasant and the village of Pleasantville, whose police officers were involved in their son's death.
In April, the local Police Benevolent Association named officer Hess, who fired the fatal shot, Officer of the Year.
"That is in keeping with the arrogance displayed and the inhumanity that we have seen from that moment he was killed," Henry Sr. said of the PBA's choice. "These are people that take an oath to protect and serve, then arrogantly celebrate that they see themselves as above the law because nobody is going to make them explain themselves."
The killing of DJ Henry has remained controversial for many reasons, not the least of which being the racial overtones of an unarmed black man being shot and killed by white police officers. But, as Phillip Martin with WGBH in Boston explored in a recent series on the Henry killing, the system of police training and protocol may have contributed to the shooting.
"If you read anything about police, you know if we didn't create racial profiling, we certainly raised it to a high art form," Jack Cole, a 27-year New Jersey State Police veteran, told WGBH. Departments essentially train officers to "go to war instead of training them to be community police officers," he said.
That kind of training can lead to incidents like the Danroy Henry case, he said.
Meanwhile, in the year since Henry's death, there have been tearful vigils, Facebook campaigns running under the banner "I Am DJ Henry," and even a commemoration of the slain young man by rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West, with their track "Murder to Excellence."
The family has also formed the DJ Dream Fund, a not-for-profit organization that promotes healthy lifestyles and supports youth participation in sports. And on Monday, to mark the anniversary of the killing, about three dozen relatives and friends gathered in Easton, where a sports field was named in Henry's honor.
With few answers from law enforcement officials, Henry's family has struggled to move on or make sense of the killing.
"It's all consuming," said Angela Henry, DJ's mother. "You think about it all day long. Am I doing enough? Is there more I could be doing? Is there another phone call to make or another letter I could be writing?"
Henry's siblings have had as tough a time as anyone, his parents said. Brother Kyle is 19 and a freshman in college. And his sister Amber, 16, is now a junior in high school. They miss Henry's brotherly advice and his steady guidance, the parents said.
"It's very challenging for them," their mother said. "Although life moves forward, emotionally they haven't had the opportunity to move forward. They are still grieving. They miss having their big brother there. They don't understand how this could happen, and we don't have answers for them."
"Our family has always been a strong unit, always bonded in our faith and that hasn't changed," she continued. "I don't believe any family can go through this type of pain without having some strong sense of faith. There's no way to navigate any of this on your own, there's not a book or manual."
WATCH The Henrys Discuss The Anniversary Of Their Son's Death: