"You leave here as the day you came in," Mount Pleasant Town Justice Robert Ponzini told one former and three current Pace University students today. "Without a criminal record."
Yves Delpeche, Joseph Garcia, Joseph Romanick and Daniel Parker had all charges brought against them the morning of Danroy "DJ" Henry's death dismissed against them today.
The charges being reviewed were:
Daniel Parker and Yves Delpeche: Resisting Arrest, Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree and Disorderly Conduct, misdemeanors.
Joseph Garcia: Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree and Disorderly Conduct.
Joseph Romanick: two counts of Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree, also misdemeanors.
The Westchester District Attorney's office the charges on March 9 and today, Ponzini said, "I've given this a fair amount of thought," before announcing his decision.
Many in the courtroom applauded as Ponzini revealed he felt the students are innocent.
"Today was a great victory for us and for the public," said Bonita Zelman, the men's attorney.
In a statement, Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said, "I agree that this determination, the dismissal of charges by the Court, is in the interest of justice."
Michael Hagan, President of the Westchester County Department of Public Safety Police Benevolent Association (PBA) Inc., said the organization, "is disappointed with the District Attorney’s decision to follow through with the dismissal of all charges," in a statement today.
He stated, "Pace University students were drunk and disorderly long before the first officers arrived on the scene...There is no excuse for any member of society to disregard the lawful orders of a police officer, let alone fight with those police officers who are trying to affect an arrest and restore order."
DiFore added, "While I understand the disappointment expressed by the Westchester County Department of Public Safety Police Benevolent Association, and have stated that there is no legal excuse for the failure of these four young men to abide by lawful directives of the police, given the unique and extraordinary circumstances that unfolded that morning, the spirit of justice was served with the dismissal of the charges."
Hagan, however, said he takes issue with the actions of the students, who "have never filed a formal complaint, they were more interested in filing a notice of claim."
Zelman said she has filed a notice of claim against the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, as well as the and Mount Pleasant Police Departments. She would not divulge the exact amount of damages she is seeking on behalf of her clients, but stated it was a seven-digit figure.
She said the civil lawsuit is, "for assault and battery and brutality."
Expanded Zelman, "They tasered two of my clients. One of my clients was tasered twice in the abdomen."
Hagan called the notice of claim "shameless," and stated it "should be a great cause for concern for all us all."
"In the end," he said, "the taxpayers are exposed to a liability for an incident where alcohol fueled, disorderly individuals are not held accountable for their actions."
Zelman also revealed the cell phone video footage that was previously released to the media of the Oct. 17 events was analyzed by an expert and edited for clarity (see attached video). The volumn was also enhanced. That video, along with still frames from the video, was given to Ponzini to review before making his decision.
Zelman further stated the next step for the lawsuit will involve obtaining copies of video surveillance from stores near Finnegan's Grill, as well as video taken by a police cruiser at the scene.
When the Pace students addressed the press outside of the courtroom, they said they were "relieved" the case was over, but would keep fighting in the Henrys' quest for justice.
Desmond Hinds, who was in the back seat of the vehicle when Henry was shot, as well as Angella Henry, DJ's mother, also spoke about the continued struggle.
"One chapter of your life is closed," Ponzini told the men. "You should go forward with a clean slate."