The lawyer for the family of slain Pace University football player Danroy "DJ" Henry claims that top-ranking Mount Pleasant policemen and the Westchester County District Attorney's office covered up important information surrounding his 2010 death.
Talking to reporters on Thursday morning at the Doubletree Hilton in Tarrytown, attorney Michael Sussman accused Chief Louis Alagno and Lt. Brian Fanelli of knowingly giving contradictory information concerning why Mount Pleasant officer Ronald Beckley fired his gun towards Henry's car, which was parked in a fire lane near Finnegan's Grill in Thornwood.
Sussman, based on gathering depositions from police involved, said that Beckley fired at Pleasantville police officer Aaron Hess, who he claims lunged onto the hood of Henry's car. Beckley, Sussman claimed based on his deposition, believed that Hess was an aggressor but did not know that he was a fellow officer.
Sussman said that Hess fired three shots at Henry, who was from Easton, MA, and at his friend and passenger Brandon Cox. Cox survived and was present at the Thursday media gathering.
The timeline of events came shortly after 1 a.m. on Oct. 17, 2010. However, Sussman then stated that based on a meeting around 4:50 a.m., Beckley told Fanelli of his belief that Hess appeared to be the aggressor and fired the shot to stop his conduct. Fanelli, Sussman then claimed, wrote a memo stating that Beckley fired because he believed that Henry's vehicle was a threat and shot at it, which the lawyer then said Beckley denied.
Sussman then claimed that Alagno knew about Beckley's account, and that the memo was incorrect, but did not disclose it when he went to the media soon after the incident.
“He could provide no meaningful explanation for his public deception," said Sussman, who raised his voice frequently during the press conference.
Sussman said that Alagno was briefed about Beckley's account by Fanelli around 7:30 a.m. on the day of his press conference, and that two representatives of the district attorney's office were present. He then said that Alagno did not disclose Beckley's account about Hess and instead told the press details listed in Fanelli's memo, that he fired at the vehicle because he felt he was at risk. The officials from the district attorney's office were present at the press conference, he said.
It was, he claimed, a knowingly "false statement by a person who's still a police chief in this county.”
Sussman then claimed that Fanelli falsified his memo and broke state law in doing so, and that Beckley, according to his deposition, did not know about the contents of it until about a week before his testimony began.
The Town of Mount Pleasant and two of its officers are being sued by Henry's parents, Danroy and Angela Henry. They are also suing the Village of Pleasantville and Hess, who took a disability retirement last month. Alagno was due to continue his deposition on Thursday, Sussman said, and several witnesses have already been deposed, including Hess, Beckley and former Pleasantville Police Chief Anthony Chiarlitti.
Reading a paper copy of Alagno's earlier testimony, Sussman said that Alagno was asked about why Beckley's account of firing at Hess was not included in his statement to the press.
“It was a decision I had made at the time," Sussman said Alagno stated. Alagno then said, Sussman claimed, that he did not recall why he omitted mentioning it.
Sussman also stated that Alagno said investigators did not speak to Beckley.
Reading another page from the deposition, Sussman said that Alagno stated the information about Beckley and Hess was intended to be given to a grand jury investigating the case. The minutes of the Westchester County grand jury have not been released, Sussman said to reporters.
The grand jury chose not to indict anyone for criminal charges in connection with Henry's death.
Alagno was reached for comment by Patch but declined to talk about the Sussman's claims, citing the fact that the town is in litigation. He gave a phone number for the attorney representing Mount Pleasant, who could not be reached for comment.
Danroy Henry, Sr. gave his backing, to Sussman's assertion, at least generally speaking, calling the matter "a fabrication.”
Angela Henry blasted District Attorney Janet DiFiore, claiming that she told her there would be a thorough investigation, and said that she already knew what the truth was but chose to hide it.
Reached for comment, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, denied any cover up and stated that the grand jury investigation included a comprehensive report. According to a press release sent out when the decision not to press charges was made in February 2011, a total of 85 witnesses were heard. People contacted ranged from civilians to experts in fields such as ballistics and reconstruction.
Sussman, who noted that Mount Pleasant police took the lead in the investigation, called for New York State's government to create a special prosecutor's office to investigate cases of fatal actions taken by police. He argued that district attorneys, who rely on cooperation from local police for their work, can't be fair investigators of local authorities.
Sussman also made some other claims based on the depositions taken. They included Stephan van Ostrand, the owner of Finnegan's, stating that Henry showed no signs of being intoxicated and that he "closely" interacted with him. A test, released about a month after Henry's death, showed that he had a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .13 percent, above the legal limit. Danroy Henry, Sr., who is skeptical about the veracity of the result, pointed out the bar owner's account and felt that more inquiry into the difference between it and the BAC result should be done.
Sussman also suggested that, based on Beckley's testimony, Hess indicated he had been shot in his knee when he fired his round towards him. He also speculated that Hess did not sustain an injury in connection with being on Henry's car, but that Beckley shooting him was a cause.
Reached for comment, Hess' attorney Brian Sokoloff said that Hess was not shot, and that his injury was connected to being hit by Henry's car. He also felt that Beckley's account, in which he said Hess stated his leg was "shot," was being taken out of context, referencing another definition for the term in which general injury is conveyed.
Asked after the press conference whether he felt Pleasantville was also engaged in a cover up, Sussman said he does not know.
Sussman said that transcripts of the depositions will be posted on the website of his law firm. The depositions were supposed to be completed by March but he told the press that he is doubtful that will happen on time.