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Friday, April 22, 2011

Officer who shot college student honored; youth's family outraged


 An award given to an officer who fatally shot a Pace University football player last year is "obviously offensive," an attorney representing the youth's parents said Wednesday.
"It's a disgrace," Michael Sussman told reporters. "What concerns me is it sends a message of blatant disregard."
Officer Aaron Hess was named Officer of the Year by the Police Benevolent Association in Pleasantville, New York, last week, according to CNN affiliate WCVB.
Hess shot Danroy "D.J." Henry, 20, of Easton, Massachusetts, early on October 17 outside a bar at a shopping center in Thornwood, New York.
The incident occurred after a police officer came across "a large group of unruly patrons" brawling in front of Finnegan's Grill in Thornwood and called for backup, according to a police statement issued shortly after the shooting.
Some 50 police officers responded to the brawl. Officers were breaking up fights, police said, when "a vehicle parked in the fire lane" accelerated. A police officer tried to stop the vehicle, which Henry was driving, but its mirror struck him and the officer ended up on the hood, police said.
The officer on the hood shot at the driver, but the vehicle continued in the fire lane in the direction of another officer. That officer also fired at the vehicle, according to the police statement.
The Henry family plans to file a federal civil suit next week, Sussman told reporters Wednesday. He called the award a "publicity stunt" and said, "While the award is shocking and outrageous, it's really not surprising." However, he said, he did not believe the union meant to offend Henry's family.
In a statement, the Pleasantville Police Benevolent Association said it voted unanimously to present the award to Hess.
"The award was presented at a private dinner party on one of the first occasions Officer Hess has been physically able to attend such an event," as he is still recovering from injuries suffered in the October incident, the union said. "The PBA did not seek to create a public spectacle of this award" and did not seek media attention for Hess, it said.
It also said it did not aim to offend the Henry family, "whose continuing grief is obvious and understandable." The union said it does not know who leaked the award to the media.
Asked about Hess' honor, Henry's mother, Angella Henry, told WCVB, "This is a glimpse of what we, the Henry family, have been dealing with since day one -- the arrogance from the police department."
She said those supporting the family should let authorities know "how disgusted we are."
"The Henry family is in this for the long haul," Sussman said. "They're not going to be deterred by this insult."
The Police Benevolent Association said that "in the performance of his duties, and in order to protect himself and numerous others, Officer Hess was compelled to use deadly force, an action that every police officer hopes and prays they will never have to take. He did so while desperately clinging to the hood of a car, and only after being struck by the motor vehicle driven by a highly intoxicated DJ Henry. He was severely injured and is still recovering from those serious injuries."
The award expressed support "for the dignified and professional manner in which Officer Hess has conducted himself throughout this ordeal," the union said.
In February, a Westchester County grand jury refused to indict Hess in Henry's death. Henry's father, Danroy Henry Sr., told CNN at the time the youth's family believes the grand jurors heard faulty evidence. "The presentation of the evidence and the facts was absolutely ineffective, based on what we know to be the truth, given our own investigation," he said.
An attorney for Hess released a statement in February that said in part, "the tragedy of D.J. Henry's death cannot and should not be distorted to pursue an agenda which ignores the sad and painful truth that a 20-year-old man who by all accounts was a good and decent human being made very, very poor decisions that night and morning that brought about his own death."
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the case.

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