By WGBH News | Friday, March 16, 2012
Mar. 16, 2012
BOSTON — On Monday, dozens of previously unreleased items from the night Pace University student DJ Henry was fatally shot were made public, including dashboard video, depositions and 911 tapes. But does the evidence offer any clarity about what really happened that night? DJ’s father Danroy Henry Sr. joined Emily Rooney on Greater Boston to answer that question. Read WGBH complete coverage.
WGBH: Have you looked at all the new evidence?
Henry: We haven't watched all of these videos and listened to the audio. It's just painful.
WGBH: The new video is from a police car that arrived at some point after DJ was shot, and it shows him lying on the ground while minutes go by before he receives medical treatment. Was that a surprise to you?
Henry: We knew it. People told us who were there, that morning. They were horrified by the lack of treatment, by the inhumanity of that… And frankly [the police] never denied that it was true, they just attempted to debate the duration of it. So this is just confirming evidence for people who have doubted that, who thought that that was sensationalized.
WGBH: A lot of confusion comes through in the affidavits about what really happened that night. You've challenged the police account of events. Do these documents support your point of view?
Henry: Really the only question we’re trying to answer is whether or not what Aaron Hess did was justified somehow. … If this is their best stuff… is there any justification for Aaron Hess using deadly force in this evidence? And we would argue no, quite the contrary. Emily, shouldn't the circumstances around the use of deadly force be clearer than that? I I mean shouldn't they just be clearer than that? And that's really our point.
WGBH: If Hess thought his life was in danger by DJ's car, you could see him feeling like he had to defend himself.
Henry: [Officer] Ronald Beckley… says he shot at Hess. He wasn't responding to a commotion in the roadway…. What he shoots at is a guy shooting at a car. He observes this guy in black on a car and the first threat he perceives is the guy on the car shooting — is Aaron Hess, not DJ.
… If you just think about what Hess claimed to have been justification — that he had to stop this kid from running down people because he had, in his view, had already run three people and he had to stop him — that just isn't supported by the evidence. [DJ] didn't run anyone over. The car went about four car lengths. Hess shot almost immediately. He had his gun out. He claims he didn't have his gun out [but the affidavits say] he had his gun out. … and he was the only one who shot and stopped DJ. Everybody else didn't shoot. They exercised either appropriate restraint or they saw no threat. And the only other person that shot was shooting at Hess. So it's clear to us there was no threat.
WGBH: Do you think the police are withholding any evidence?
Henry: We know that someone took DJ's phone home after it would have been considered evidence and then claimed to have brought it back… we know that these dash cams [in the cruisers on the scene] should have been operating but we weren't. … We suspect that there were some irregularities with the autopsy. So of course we suspect. Why wouldn't we?
WGBH: The federal Department of Justice is looking into the investigation. What will you do if they come back and say the New York police and courts were right?
Henry: We'll deal with it. What other choice would we have? We'll deal with it. There are no real victories for us here. We're not getting DJ back.
By Phillip Martin | Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Mar. 13, 2012
At 7:00 p.m. on "Greater Boston": Danroy Henry Sr. reacts to the new information.
BOSTON — More previously classified documents have been published relative to the police killing of an Easton, Mass. college student in October 2010 in a New York suburb. The first batch provides a mixed, indeed contradictory picture of what happened.
From the beginning, the Pleasantville and Mt. Pleasant, N.Y., police departments claimed Danroy "DJ" Henry Jr., 20, tried to run down officer Aaron Hess in a strip mall parking lot. The witness statements were compiled by the police and the evidence was presented to a New York grand jury last year, which chose not to indict Hess and officer Ronald Beckley. Lawyers for the Henry family have questioned the diligence in which the Westchester County defense attorney's office presented this case to the grand jury.
This, again, is how the case began: Police were called to the bar after a fight broke out between a bouncer and a patron on Oct. 17, 2010. By all accounts, the disturbance had nothing to do with Henry and his four friends. The owner of the bar called for everyone to get out. Henry, the designated driver, went to the parking lot to retrieve his car and pulled into a fire lane in front of the bar.
From there, the accounts splinter.
The official police interview with Brandon Cox is part of the documents released this week. According to the police transcript, a police officer tapped on the window; as Henry drove out of the fire lane, an officer jumped out in front of the car, drew his gun and fired. Read the interview.
In a document made public this week, a policeman who responded to the scene and who said he grew up with Hess, signed a witness statement that reads, "I then saw Officer Aaron Hess step out in the road and put his left hand up and his right hand on his gun as the Altima was coming towards him. I also heard Officer Cox yell at least three times for the car to stop. I then heard the Altima accelerating as it approached Officer Hess. There's no way the driver did not see Officer Hess."
But in the police interview, Cox said the car's windows were fogged up by condensation. Yet another deposition, by a witness named Robert Coulombe, said that Henry's "driving posed no imminent danger."
> > Read Coulombe's version of events.
In a press briefing with reporters on Monday, Michael Sussman, the attorney for the family, disputed the characterization of who struck whom, saying that Hess jumped out in front of the car. In addition, one statement by Beckley seemed to say that he considered the primary threat to be the shooter, not the driver.
The documents include a video showing Henry, handcuffed and seriously injured, lying face down on the street. According to the attorney's caption, “although told by the EMT initially that DJ had expired, a police officer eventually checks DJ, and realizes that he is seriously wounded and still alive. Treatment begins only at that point."
Adding to the confusion was police chatter, captured in audio released Monday, that mischaracterized the police emergency. It was Henry who lay dying on the ground from gun shot wounds. The officer down was Hess resulting from coming in contact with the car.
Lawyers for the Henry family say they will post more documents, including 911 calls, over the next few days. Read the documents.
By Phillip Martin & WGBH News | Monday, March 12, 2012
Mar. 12, 2012
BOSTON — Eyes and ears are on video tapes and 911 calls this week: sights and sounds that may add understanding to how a college student from Easton, Mass., was shot dead by a Westchester County, N.Y., police officer. Check out the documents.
At 11:15 a.m. on Monday, previously unavailable documents related to the shooting of DJ Henry were made available to the public. The Pace University student, who graduated from Oliver Ames High School, was shot and killed in front of a popular college hangout in Thornwood, N.Y., in October 2010 by Pleasantville, N.Y., police officer Aaron Hess. Hess said that Henry tried to run him over and he fired his weapon in self-defense. Hess and a fellow policeman were cleared by a New York grand jury.
The Henry family sued in federal court to have the documents that had been suppressed in the case made public. The investigative file was compiled by the Mt. Pleasant and Pleasantville police and contains hundreds of individual items, including 911 calls, video and witness statements. A federal judge in White Plains last week ruled that a confidentially order should be lifted.
The 911 audio purports to demonstrate Hess discussing his own physical condition and stating that he is OK. However, the video embedded above, according to the attorney for the family, Michael Sussman, shows medical crews tending to Hess but not Henry, who was pulled from his car onto the street after he was shot. Other documents, according to Sussman, include evidence that a dash camera from a police cruiser was purposely disabled, as well as witness affidavits alleging that Hess drew his gun prior to impact with the vehicle driven by Henry. The file further contains confirmation of deadly force training and standard operating procedures for Mt. Pleasant and Pleasantville police departments that strongly prohibit firing at a moving vehicle.
Sussman said at a Mar. 12 press conference that the attorneys would continue to release materials. He declined, however, to give many opinions on those materials: "I am not going to try this case in the media. I am giving you information which is relevant to questions many of you have asked since October of 2010 — rates of speed of the car, was [Hess'] gun out when he came into the street and numerous, numerous other questions. I am not going to interpret the information except in a court.”
Robert Johnson, a lawyer involved in one of eight civil cases related to the Henry shooting, said in an interview with WGBH News that this case has national and constitutional significance. He believed that the 13th amendment would weigh heavily in the federal civil rights trail, which Sussman says is quite a ways off. The Henry family was scheduled to meet with Justice Department lawyers on Monday.
By Phillip Martin | Thursday, March 8, 2012
Mar. 8, 2012
BOSTON — A federal judge ruled Thursday afternoon that the family of Danroy "DJ" Henry has the right to see surveillance tapes taken on the night of Henry's death. Since October 2010, WGBH has been reporting on the shooting death of the Easton, Massachusetts student. Henry's father said information may be available as early as Friday.
On Oct. 17, 2010, Henry was killed in a hail of bullets fired by police officer Aaron Hess and another officer in Thornwood, N.Y., a village in the town of Mt. Pleasant. Hess said he believed his life was in danger. In the aftermath of the incident, the Westchester Country district attorney's office collected videotapes from various businesses throughout the mall where the shooting took place. The DA’s office, citing the prerogatives of the investigation, declined to share the content with the family or its lawyers even after a grand jury did not criminally indict the two officers involved.
What is on the videotapes has been a constant question.
A spokesman for the Westchester County DA’s office said months ago that there is nothing incriminating on the tapes. So why did the office fight to hold on to them? Those questions may now be answered with a ruling on Thursday by a federal judge that the videotapes must now be handed over to the family.
At the hearing, Henry attorney Michael Sussman argued for access during the process of discovery in the civil suit launched by the Henry family. The confidentiality order had prohibited all sides in the civil rights lawsuits from distributing key documents and videos related to the shooting.
In addition to the videotapes, the lifting of the order means that the family will also have access to 911 calls, police radio transmissions and more than 100 witness statements pertinent to the shooting. Sussman said evidence could be available for public review as soon as Friday. He also said that the evidence would show that “the shooting lacked any possible justification.”
The Henry family is seeking $120 million in damages and more detailed answers from the police department about the circumstances that led to the death of their son. Theirs is one of eight lawsuits filed in this case. On Monday, the family will meet with U.S. Justice Department lawyers to discuss the progress of the federal investigation into the case.
By WGBH News | Friday, March 2, 2012
Mar. 2, 2012
BOSTON — As Barack Obama runs for a second term, academics have gathered at Tufts for their third conference assessing his presidency.
History professor Peniel Joseph said that Obama has become an international symbol of African American achievement even though "if anything, he's been reluctant to dip his toe into race matters."
Still, Joseph wondered whether the symbol can pull together a strong enough coalition to keep the presidency this year, asking, "Is 'hope and change' dead on arrival in 2012?"
The conference marks the creation of a new multidisciplinary center at the university that will study questions of race and politics year-round. "Race and democracy are really two of the most pressing issues for the 21st century globally," Joseph said, playing a role in everything from the Arab Spring to the success in Boston of city councilor Ayanna Pressley.
In addition, Tufts is launching an Africana studies major — something many universities created in the 1970s. "Top, elite institutions … they all offer degrees in Africana Studies so in a way we were behind the curve," Joseph said.
WGBH News' Phillip Martin is a panelist at the conference Saturday morning, discussing civic engagement and media in the Obama age.
> > LISTEN: Race, democracy and a new center at Tufts on "The Emily Rooney Show."
By Cristina Quinn | Thursday, March 1, 2012
Mar. 2, 2012
BRAINTREE, Mass. — It's school vacation week, and at South Shore Plaza in Braintree, teens are everywhere. But contrary to what you might think, they're not all just hanging out. Some are looking for a job — with no success.
“I’ve been trying for like two years. I got one interview, that was it. No one will take a teenager,” one teen said.
Another said, "I've been applying at Shaw's, PriceRite, Burger King, McDonalds, but I’m not getting any reply from them. I’ve been going like every single day to check up and all that."
And a third: “I’ve been looking for a few months now. Basically anywhere, like anywhere that’s hiring, I go in. I talk to the managers. But still no job.”
Teens between the ages of 16 and 19 are in a jobs depression. Add race to the mix, and it’s nothing short of an epidemic. And it has long-term ramifications: Lack of work experience in the teen years reduces future employability and earnings.
Upstairs in the food court, Ashley Registre of Randolph sat at a table with her friend Amber. Registre was filling out a job application for a retail clothing store in the mall. It's not her first job application. She listed them off: "Hollister, Abercrombie, Aéropostale, PS Aéropostale, Baby Gap, Children’s Place. Dunkin' Donuts, McDonalds, Stop & Shop … there’s more."
The scope of the problem
Registre is one of many black teenagers looking for work. While the national teen unemployment rate overall is at 24 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for black teens is at 42 percent. Economist Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, said even that figure may be coming up short.
"A lot of the household surveys that are done when the child isn’t working are with the mother rather than with the child. And what we find when we compare those answers is that there’s a lot more kids that want to work than their moms will admit," Sum said. "So the unemployment rate, as bad as it is, is substantially underestimated, particularly for low-income minority kids."
> > READ: The center's report on summer jobs for teens in 2011 (pdf)
Income plays a major role in the results. The statistics show that if parents make good money, their teenage kids have a better shot at working part-time. But if teens are part of families making less than $20,000, finding a job is an agonizing long shot.
- Economist Andrew Sum: Counting money at his church
Only 6 to 7 percent of low-income black and Hispanic high school students work, Sum said. "And if you’re a high-income white high school student, 33 out of 100 work." Why is that? "Part of it is because low-income youths are often living in neighborhoods where there’s not a good job network."
Hiring who you know
Networking is the magic word here, and when it comes to finding a job, sometimes it all comes down to who you know. Maybe you got your first part-time job through your parents, a family friend or a neighbor. But when a teen doesn’t have those connections, he or she is left with the three markets that historically employ teens: food service, retail, and the arts entertainment industry (e.g., movie theaters).
Back at the mall, Ashley and Amber wondered aloud if they haven't been getting hired because they’re black.
"Most of my white friends or mixed friends, they all have jobs, and us—we don’t have jobs. Every store I’ve been in, I hardly ever see a black person," said Amber, who asked that we not use her last name. She didn't think it was because of racism. "I mean, I know there’s racism out there. But I think it’s more like they have the look for it to represent our store. And their personality could be awful, but they have 'the look.'"
It may not be overt racism when it comes to the hiring practices of businesses, but Sum said people are more inclined to hire people with whom they’re most familiar. So if the hiring manager at a clothing store or supermarket doesn’t know you or your neighborhood, it’s possible that that person may hire someone from his town or someone whom he identifies with more.
"When you get people in personnel and HR who know the community, what you find is they are much more likely to recruit and hire kids from the community," he said. "When they lack that connection to the community, what you find is they tend not to recruit from the inner city. So it’s not direct, but it has the effect of excluding you from consideration."
When a teenager doesn’t have a network to begin with and is excluded for reasons that lie in the subconscious of a potential employer, what’s left? Where does that teen go?
A coalition for jobs
Imani Rice is a junior at John D. O’Bryant High School in Roxbury. For the past year, she’s been spending her afternoons working at Dorchester Bay Youth Force in Upham’s Corner. The Youth Force is a leading member of the statewide Youth Jobs Coalition, which helps teens find jobs. "Right now, we’re targeting the private sector. We’re targeting places like hospitals, banks, private industries," she said.
At 16 years old, Rice is more poised than most kids her age. She credited her job as a community organizer for her self-confidence.
"Last year, when I wasn’t doing anything, I was, like, more lazy. This job helped me with my presentation skills. It just made me a better leader. So now I use the skills I learned here in my school. I went from like — let’s not even talk about that" — she said, laughing — "but I went from bad to honor roll. And I'm maintaining honor roll."
The Youth Jobs Coalition serves as a broker for teens who have no network when seeking out a job. Staff members reach out to businesses that don’t typically hire high school kids.
Progress, eight jobs at a time
The coalition recently convinced a Dorchester hospital to take on teenagers. Rice and other kids from the Youth Force presented their case to Carney Hospital president Bill Walczak as to why he should hire teens this summer.
"We asked him if he’d commit to eight jobs, and he did, which is really great," Rice said, snapping her fingers. "It’s a win."
Walczak also thinks it’s a win.
"The health care system is 18 percent of the jobs in Boston. We need to grow the next generation of employees. And the way to do that is to introduce them as early as possible to opportunities, so they can learn how to be good workers," he said.
As for keeping the teen employees after the summer, Walczak was open to the idea. However, he said, "We’ll have to see what happens within the health care system. As you know, there are lots of cuts that are going down, especially for safety-net institutions like the Carney Hospital, so we have to evaluate what we can do."
In the meantime, Rice said: Keep looking.
"Just keep an extra eye out," she said. "There are flyers out there that you may not pay attention to. Ask a friend, ask a teacher, ask a guidance counselor. Even ask a librarian. Because there are great programs out there like this one that will help you."
Rice herself might be proof of the possibilities. As she said, "Don’t settle for the retail and the Stop & Shop and the movie theater jobs when you can have a great job like this one!"