WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. —The police killing of a college football player was “nothing short of intentional murder,” a lawyer for the student’s family said Thursday as he renewed his demand for an independent prosecutor to investigate the off-campus shooting.
Attorney Michael Sussman’s charge was an escalation of his previous comments on the Oct. 17 killing of 20-year-old Danroy “DJ” Henry of Easton. Witness accounts of the shooting have differed sharply, and a grand jury is investigating.
Henry was killed when police officers fired through the windshield of his car as he drove from the scene of a bar disturbance in Thornwood, N.Y., near the Pace University campus, after the school’s homecoming game. Sussman said the fatal bullets were fired by Pleasantville officer Aaron Hess, who has acknowledged shooting at Henry.
A lawyer for Hess, John K. Grant, did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages Thursday. He said earlier this month that Henry’s car hit Hess and threw him onto the hood, then kept accelerating.
“Officer Hess had no other available alternative but to fire at the operator to stop the threat,” Grant said.
Autopsy results included a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit for driving. Sussman has disputed that finding and said Thursday that the results may have been tampered with.
Sussman said he based his murder allegation on autopsy results and his deductions about the paths of the bullets. He said Hess tracked Henry and kept aiming for him as Henry recoiled from the gunshots.
“DJ Henry was curling in a way to get away from the first shot when the second and third shots were fired, and those shots are the shots that killed him,” Sussman said during a telephone news conference. “This was nothing short of intentional murder, period.”
Sussman has insisted for months that Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who’s leading the investigation, is too close to the police departments involved and should step aside.
He said Thursday that he has asked Gov. David Paterson to appoint a special prosecutor. He had already requested that the federal Department of Justice investigate. The department said it was monitoring the case “and if appropriate will undertake an independent review.”
Earlier Thursday, the district attorney’s office alleged improper conduct by the lawyer for four of Henry’s teammates, who are charged with various misdemeanors in the aftermath of the police shooting.
Assistant District Attorney Patricia Murphy said lawyer Bonita Zelman refused to let police talk to a witness unless charges were dropped against her clients.
“The people will not, will never accede to coercion to resolve these cases,” Murphy said during the students’ appearance in Mount Pleasant Town Court.
Zelman denied the charge, saying, “It never happened.”
Town Justice Robert Ponzini said prosecutors could file a written complaint against Zelman.