Rihanna, Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, and more have signed a letter calling on the Department of Justice to re-open his case.

By Kimberly Truong
Jul 15, 2020 @ 1:03 pm
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Ten years after 20-year-old Black college student Danroy "D.J." Henry was shot and killed by a white police officer, his death is drawing renewed attention as celebrities like Rihanna, Kerry Washington, and Charlize Theron have signed a letter asking the Department of Justice to re-open his case.

Here's everything we know about Henry, and how you can help advocate for his case.

Who was DJ Henry?

Henry was a student at Pace University in New York and originally hailed from Easton, Massachusetts. He was a junior and played football at the university.

On Oct. 18, 2010, Henry had been at a party after a homecoming game at Finnegan's Bar and Grill in Pleasantville, NY, not far from Pace University's Westchester campus. According to CBS, other patrons at the bar got into a fight, and police were called to disburse the group. Henry was in a car and was shot while he was trying to drive away. The Boston Globe reports that as Henry pulled the car forward, police yelled for him to stop, and Officer Aaron Hess stepped in front of the car, ended up on the hood, and fired several shots through the windshield.

Demond Hinds, a friend of Henry's who was present at the scene, told CBS that Henry "just made this moan, this moan that I will never forget." Henry was pulled from the car and died while handcuffed on the pavement, awaiting EMTs. The passenger in his car was also wounded.

At the time, Hess said Henry was driving toward him and wouldn’t stop, and said he shot into the car because he believed the car was moving as to throw him off. He said he fired three to four times into the car "because I felt that was the necessary amount I needed to fire my weapon." However, Hess later admitted in court that he could have stepped out of the way.

What happened in his case?

Though his family filed a lawsuit against Hess and the city of Pleasantville, a grand jury decided not to indict anyone involved with Henry's death. In 2015, no federal charges were brought in the case. Hess was not prosecuted. At the time, the U.S. Attorney’s Office determined after its investigation that the "evidence did not support charges."

In 2016, the Henry family accepted a partial settlement of $6 million. "The Henrys have been clear from the beginning that no monetary settlement could ever replace the deep loss of their beloved son DJ," their attorney, Michael Sussman, told CNN at the time.

Why is his case regaining attention?

In the event of recent mass protests against racial injustice sparked in part by the killing of George Floyd, Henry's family is calling for his case to be reopened. Last month, his younger sister Amber Henry told local Boston news outlet 25 Investigates, "This was murder. It’s plain and simple. It’s obvious it didn’t have to end this way. I have a hope in my heart and a fire in my soul that I’m not going to give up until it happens. I know if my brother was here he would do the same thing for me."

As of June 12, the Westchester County district attorney’s office told 25 Investigates, "Under the former District Attorney, the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office thoroughly investigated the shooting presented the case to a Westchester County Grand Jury at the time of the shooting. The Grand Jury declined to bring charges against the police officer," and the U.S. Attorney’s office reviewed the case and did not file charges.

"There have been no requests to the Office to reopen the case," the DA’s office said at the time, adding that it could only be reopened if new evidence is discovered, and "at this time, there are no plans by this office to reopen the case."

This week, celebrities such as Rihanna, Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, Jay-Z, and Pharrell Williams signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr asking for the case to be re-opened.

"…[L]ike so many other unarmed and innocent young, black men who find themselves guilty of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, DJ, too, lost his life for no good reason and with absolutely no good explanation -- to this very day," the letter states. "Justice, it appears, has been denied."

What can you do to help?

A Change.org petition asking to get his case re-opened is seeking signatures had over 48,000 signatures out of the goal of 50,000 at the time of writing.

After his death, Henry's family set up the DJ Henry Dream Fund to provide scholarships for children in Massachusetts to participate in community-based athletics, wellness, arts, and summer camps. You can donate to the fund and go to the website to learn more about him.