In the early morning hours of October 17, 2010, the life of a much beloved, promising, vital young man was taken from his family, friends, teammates and all of us who needed him here. The young man was Danroy (DJ) Henry, a Pace University student from Easton, Massachusetts. He was killed by police officers in New York. DJ had been asked to move his car from a fire lane spot where it was idling as he and 2 other friends awaited the arrival of 2 more friends who needed a ride home. For reasons still unknown and increasingly perplexing, a different officer (Aaron Hess) jumped in front of DJ's vehicle with his gun already drawn. As DJ complied with the first officer's order, Hess shot DJ, and his friend. DJ later died. Another officer also shot at the still moving vehicle with a wounded driver and with an officer on the hood. Reckless at best.
Since then, the Henry Family and many thousands of supporters have been on a quest for the Absolute Truth. This has not been an easy task with many roadblocks and walls erected intentionally in order to thwart the effort. Currently, the Grand Jury has convened in New York and there is hope that the full truth will be revealed and that justice will occur.
The journey for the truth has amplified a glaring need for Police Accountability not only in this case but also across this nation. Not only is DJ not the first Citizen to die at the hands of police during a faulty use of deadly force, he is already not the last. Since June 24, 2010, several wonderful young men have been killed by police officers: Zac Champommier, Douglas Zerby, Reginald Doucet. Each of these deaths involves good young men who should still be alive, who had done nothing that warranted a police imposed Death Penalty. Each of these deaths was followed by police secrecy, police investigation of themselves, and police abuse of their power by brutalizing, arresting witnesses and arranging unprofessional news conferences to declare that those who died at fault for their own deaths. There was clear misuse of vague Deadly Force policy as justification and in DJ Henry's case, a direct violation of the amended Deadly Force Policy in New York which prohibited police from shooting at moving vehicles.
With DJ Henry, police were shown to be lying immediately. First reports indicated that police were only trying to disable the vehicle. When reporters then published a photo of DJ's vehicle, it was clear that the police wanted to "disable" the driver. Then comes an inappropriate, unprofessional Police Chief from Mt. Pleasant Police Department stating that DJ had tried to kill the police officer with his vehicle. An investigation had only begun just mere hours before and shows without question where the "investigation" was already headed. When the police press conference did not quell the growing outrage over this needless death of a wonderful young man, a so-called alcohol level (DJ's) was "leaked" to the press less than days after an autopsy was completed when it could not have possibly been ready since post mortem alcohol levels take weeks to complete.
The Henry Family allowed the Autopsy Report to be published when complete and still more disturbing information came to light. DJ, who was critically wounded by police, was dragged from the vehicle, thrown face down to the ground (per witnesses), handcuffed, and very obviously roughed up by police and verified by various wounds and lacerations noted in the Autopsy Report. The alcohol level mysteriously matched the "leaked" one which immediately raises a valid question of it's accuracy. It's relevance is immediately questioned anyway and has been since it was first "leaked" in order to prejudice the public. Inconsistencies abound in the police "story" and a Grand Jury is presently trying to sort all of it out. Hopefully, this will result in indictments against those responsible for DJ's needless death.
Across this nation, good, dedicated Law Enforcement professionals exist in great numbers. However, in their midst are unprofessional, poorly trained, dishonest individuals who have no place in a professional organization who pledge to Serve and Protect all of us citizens and our communities who pay their salaries and have every right to hold them Accountable for their actions.
Since 9/11/01, police brutality has increased steadily. One of the main reasons cited for this increase is that returning military veterans are being hired into police departments and that many police departments have also taken on a more paramilitary "tone" since that time which is even reflected in how some officers/departments dress. While not casting aspersions on veterans who served, there is a type of training that military combatants receive that is vastly different from the training civilian police officers receive. This places immediate need and responsibility onto Police Chiefs for not properly overseeing re-training of veterans and also monitoring these officers for signs of possible post war traumatic symptoms that might affect his performance in the field. Coincidentally, Officer Aaron Hess served in Iraq.
Police Accountability to all of us whom they serve has become a critical need nationwide. Proposed are many changes that will satisfy this need if employed as they should.
1. Police Accountability (General) and to a Civilian Accountability Board in cases of brutality complaints and most definitely (always) in the event of a shooting, whether fatal or not. This board should have power to determine whether or not further investigation or actions against the police are warranted.
2. Tighten Deadly force policy across the country so that it cannot be misused as it repeatedly has been. An officer should not be able to lie or just simply utter "my life was in danger" in order to quell all investigations into his/her actions. It seems to be too often the case that it is immediately accepted if an officer states he "felt threatened".
3. Immediate investigation into all police shootings (fatal or not) or complaints of brutality (fatal or not) by a LE entity NOT connected to the police department involved and that the involved policed departments can NEVER be involved in their own investigations into a fatal shooting.
4. Random alcohol and drug testing for all police officers and immediate drug and alcohol testing of all involved officers in the event of a police involved fatality. (No officers were tested following the death of DJ Henry)
5. Critical and ongoing training for all police officers to avoid situations such as what happened to DJ Henry when his friends and teammates wanted only to try to assist him medically and an obviously hyped up officer was darting through the crowd pointing his outstretched gun at unarmed students, using foul expletives, telling them they "were next". Police were obviously poorly trained to handle crowd dispersal.
6. Psychological profiling of police officers before hiring and monitored as needed after hiring.
7. Accountability in general for Police Chiefs and departments to police themselves in their behaviors or be held accountable. No more covering for the hair trigger, abusive cop. No more covering for a cop who coworkers may suspect has a psychiatric issue---take care of it or be held accountable for not having done so.
Thank you for reading this lengthy letter. Legislation needs to be written and passed to provide for Police Accountability. Police Departments across America need to be trained to uniformly function within the boundaries of their very own creedo 'To Protect and Serve'.
(name, address, town, state)