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Thursday
Mar032011

Passenger says Henry Complied with Orders - Mount Pleasant (NY) Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Black College Student 

From [HERE] HORNWOOD — Pace University football player Danroy "D.J." Henry braked to a near-stop after seeing Pleasantville Officer Aaron Hess in front of his car, then sped up and struck him — but only after the cop opened fire, the front-seat passenger told The Journal News today.

Passenger Brandon Cox gave his most detailed public account of the shooting a day after another eyewitness — a bar owner who had been standing next to Hess — said the officer shot only after he was hit by the car and clinging to the hood.

"As we were coming around a corner, I saw the officer run from behind a parked cruiser," Cox said. "He ran out at us with his gun raised and pointed at the vehicle. As he came in front of the car, D.J. began to slow down." As Henry was slowing down, Cox said, Hess fired.

"It sounded like the windshield breaking," he said. "That's when the car sped back up."

Cox and the other witness, Stephen Van Ostrand, owner of Finnegan's Grill, agree on one central point: Henry braked when he saw Hess. They differ on when Hess drew his gun and when he started shooting, whether it was before or after he was hit by the car.

Ballistics and other forensics testing showing the trajectory of the bullets, which could clear up such discrepancies, have not been publicized, nor have most other findings of the criminal investigation.

A Westchester County grand jury, which reviewed the evidence and heard from both witnesses — among others — opted last month not to indict Hess and another officer involved in the Oct. 17 shooting. The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the case to see if there were any civil rights violations.

Cox, Henry's boyhood friend from Easton, Mass., who attends Stonehill College, was in town playing Henry's football team during homecoming weekend. Cox, 20, was with Henry in the hours before his death.

At Pace, Cox said, he hung out with Henry and several other friends in his townhouse apartment on campus. He saw Henry, 20, drink a cup of vodka and orange soda about 9:30 p.m Oct. 16. They then headed to a couple of other student gatherings, but he didn't see Henry drink anything else, even after they went to Finnegan's Grill.

Both of them had false IDs stating they were above the legal drinking age, Cox said.

"I knew he had one and he had given me someone else's ID so I could get in," he said.

He said they drank nothing in the bar and that his friend was "calm and collected" when they left after the bar staff declared "last call" and turned the lights on.

Henry's autopsy found he had a blood-alcohol level above the legal driving limit.

Cox and Henry went outside to get the car and Henry's friend, Desmond Hinds, later hopped in the back. Idling in a fire zone, he said, they heard two loud taps on the window.

"We looked and could see it was a police officer," Cox said. "It looked like he was motioning us to move on. That's when D.J. put the vehice into drive and started to drive away."

He said Henry was driving at "normal parking-lot speed." After rounding a corner in front of Finnegan's, they saw Hess enter their path.

"The car almost came to a complete stop before the shots were fired," he said.

After hearing the first shot, he said, Henry stepped on the gas "because we were being shot at. We wanted to escape the shots."

Cox said he initially ducked, then heard more gunfire. That's when he peeked up to see Hess on the hood, he said. The car crashed into a police cruiser. Hess fell to the pavement.

Henry died of gunshot wounds, while Cox was grazed in the arm by a bullet.

On Tuesday, Van Ostrand gave his first public account of the shooting, saying he was standing with Hess when they heard screeching tires and an officer several storefronts away shouting "Stop!"

Hess jumped in the path of the car, also shouting "Stop!" According to Van Ostrand, the Nissan came to within 5 feet of Hess before it suddenly sped up. Hess got knocked onto the hood, drew his gun and opened fire, he said.

In his public account, Hess, through his lawyer John Grant, said nothing of the vehicle slowing down before it hit him. He said the car sped toward him and he shot the driver to protect himself and others. Grant said Hess drew his gun as the car accelerated toward him.

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