Mount Pleasant Police Officer Ronald Beckley, the second officer to fire his weapon the night of Pace University student DJ Henry's death, said during his deposition in federal court last week that he fired his gun to stop Aaron Hess, who he felt was the "aggressor."
"I was shooting at a person that I thought was the aggressor and was inflicting deadly physical force on another," Beckley told Michael Sussman, who deposed him as part of a civil suit filed by the Henry family against Hess and the Village of Pleasantville.
Sussman released a portion of the deposition to the media and public, a move bashed by Hess' attorney, Brian Sokoloff.
"I hope that everyone will withhold judgment on this matter until the evidence is presented to a jury as it was presented to a Grand Jury," he said to Patch. "Jumping to a conclusion about a matter based on part of one person's deposition is unfair to the process of how lawsuits get decided in America."
Hess, a Pleasantville Police Officer, shot and killed Henry on Oct. 17, 2010 outside a bar in Pleasantville as Henry was driving in his vehicle. He was not indicted by a West Chester County Grand Jury.
In Beckley's 65-page deposition, he describes to Sussman, the Henry family lawyer, what he recalls from that evening. According to Beckley, who has since retired, he arrived that night in response to a call regarding a bar fight. His attention turned to Henry's car when he heard gunfire and saw "a dark figure in front of that vehicle mounting that vehicle."
"That person was mounting that vehicle as he was firing," Beckley told Sussman, also saying that one shot was fired before Hess was on the hood.
Beckley, who said he was standing approximately 30 feet away when he first saw the vehicle, said he was unaware the person he was describing was a police officer.
By the time he fired his weapon, Beckley said he was approximately six feet from Hess.
When Henry's car stopped, Beckley said Hess "rolled" off of the car. He also believes his shot hit Hess in the knee.
"I knew I hit Hess," Beckley told Sussman. "Just from the proximity I shot, it was very close. I'm a good shot. And when he landed he told me his knee was shot. And I took that to mean he took a round."
Hess reportedly sustained a knee injury, which has kept him from active duty since the incident. The injury, however, has not been reported to be from a gunshot wound, and Mount Pleasant Lieutenant Brian Fanelli told Beckley shortly after the incident that Hess was not suffering from a gunshot wound.
Beckley's account last week differs from what was Fanelli reported immediately after the shooting.
According to Fanelli’s report during an internal investigation, Beckley felt threatened by the vehicle.
"[Beckley] saw a person who was dressed in dark clothing on the hood of the vehicle which was approaching him," Fanelli wrote in his report. "Officer Beckley stated that he believed that the gun shots were coming from the person on the hood of the vehicle. Officer Beckley stated that he believed he was going to be killed by the vehicle and that he drew his weapon and fired at the car."
Beckley told Sussman that while he spoke to Fanelli immediately following the incident, much of Fanelli's description of their conversation was inaccurate.
Sussman went through Fanelli's report during the deposition last week.
Q: "Officer Beckley stated that he looked up and saw a car coming at a high rate of speed." Is that accurate?
Q: Was there any discussion, as you explained the situation in the sequence you explained it, however was that you explained it, that you looked up and saw a car coming at any rate of speed?"
Beckley went on to tell Sussman that he explained to Fanelli his reasoning for firing his weapon, and that he was firing at Hess, who he felt to be an "aggressor." However, that information was not disclosed in Fanelli's report.
DJ Henry's father, Danroy Henry Sr., released a statement via Youtube Sunday describing Fanelli's report to be part of an ongoing effort to "obstruct justice."
"It's interesting to us that somehow we would be offered a story about what happened, not absolute truth," he said. "We were given a version; a calculated story; a made up story; a fabrication. So, if justice relies on truth, when you obstruct truth, you obstruct justice."
Henry cited Fanelli's report as an example of a "fabricated" story.
"Brian Fanelli, and likely others, chose to ignore that truth to create a version of the story that would somehow exonerate Aaron Hess for doing what was wrong," Henry said. "Sometimes people get so caught up in institutions, they forget to support the very foundation those institutions are built on."
Henry also pointed out that neither Beckley nor Hess was interviewed during the Grand Jury investigation conducted by the Westchester County District Attorney's office.
"In reality, how thorough of an investigation could it have been if out of their own mouths, Ronald Beckley and Aaron Hess, both the shooters that night, both indicate out of their own mouths - I'm not saying it, I'm just letting you know what they said - that they were never interviewed by the D.A.?" Henry said. "How could an investigation be thorough that doesn't interview the two shooters? It doesn't make any sense."
Beckley was put on leave following the incident in October. In January, 2011, he retired from the force after a 30 year career that lasted from 1981 to 2011. He told Sussman that he was unaware of claims made in Fanelli's report and had never seen it until this September. He said he followed news coverage of the incident "in bits and pieces" provided by his wife.
According to Beckley's deposition with Hess' lawyer Brian Sokoloff, Beckley said he never filed a report on his own.
In addition to Sussman and a partial deposition given to Sokoloff, Bonita Zelman, the lawyer representing Henry’s peers in several pending lawsuits, also deposed Beckley (to read the depositions, click on the attached pdfs.).
The release of Beckley's depositions came after the release of Hess' deposition in late August.
Sokoloff also reiterated comments he made on LoHud.com in which he said the premature release of the depositions may influence future witnesses who have yet to speak on the record.
“There were apparently dozens of eyeballs looking at all or part of the incident. Beckley’s is only one set. It is very unfair to release a portion of retired officer Beckley’s deposition. I have not yet questioned him. The plaintiffs needed to rush out half of a deposition in order, perhaps, to present half a story,” Sokoloff told LoHud.com Saturday.
"I don't really want to expand beyond that," he told Patch Monday, adding that he does not want to address the contents of the depositions at this time.
Sarah Studley contributed to the reporting in this article.