Pace University student Danroy "DJ" Henry was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2010

By Claudia Harmata
Updated July 14, 2020 05:30 PM
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Shareif Ziyadat/Getty; Samir Hussein/WireImage; Mike Marsland/WireImage

A group of high-profile celebrities has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice urging them to reopen an investigation into the tragic death of Pace University student Danroy "DJ" Henry, who was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2010.

The letter — signed by Robyn Fenty (Rihanna), Shawn Carter (JAY-Z), Pharrell Williams, Charlize Theron, Taraji Henson, Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Williams, Kerry Washington, Mary J. Blige and Gabrielle Union — was addressed to U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday.

"This agonizing case remains an unhealed wound for the Henry family and the people of New York," the letter reads. "DJ, a young Black youth with a bright future ahead of him, was killed for no apparent reason inside his own vehicle."

"The facts of the case reek of local conflict of interest, racial bias and even false testimony," it continued. "But like so many other unarmed and innocent young, black men who find themselves guilty of being at the wrong time, DJ, too, lost his life for no good reason and with absolutely no good explanation — to this very day. Justice, it appears, has been denied."

The group asks the Department of Justice to reevaluate whether "a pattern and/or practice of discrimination played a role in the case of DJ Henry," and if it did, for the department to "deliver the justice that restores this young man's reputation, while giving hope to other young Black men who are just like him and desperate for change."

Henry's father, Danroy Henry Sr., told the New York Post's Page Six that the family was grateful for the support in demanding justice for his son.

"We appreciate that they're leaning into the moment and that they're willing to stand behind us on this really important matter," he told the paper.

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On Oct. 17, 2010, DJ, a 20-year-old college football player, had been out celebrating at a sports bar with his teammates when a group of patrons got into a fight, CBS News reported.

Police responded to the scene and said that DJ was parked in a fire lane in front of Finnegan's Grill. When he was asked to move, officer Aaron Hess claimed DJ sped toward him, hitting him and propelling him on the hood of the car, which forced Hess to shoot at DJ.

In a deposition, Hess maintained that he thought his life was in danger when he decided to shoot into the car, and that race was not a factor because he couldn't see through the windshield.

However, new evidence reportedly finds a statement from officer Ronald Beckley where he reveals he had fired at Hess because he was the aggressor in the situation.

"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, per Patch.

According to the deposition obtained by Patch, Beckley also revealed in his deposition that Hess was "mounting" the car rather than being hit by the car as he was shooting, saying he saw "a dark figure in front of that vehicle mounting that vehicle."

"That person was mounting that vehicle as he was firing," Beckley reportedly told Sussman.

Speaking to CBS last month, DJ's father said Hess's account of what happened the night he shot DJ was "clearly" meant to "villainize our son."

"It was to make him seem like a criminal thug that needed to be stopped," he said.

One of DJ's friends, Brandon Cox, was in the car with him at the time, also maintains that DJ had been slowly pulling away from the fire lane as asked to do so by police.

"He started to make a forward motion to move forward. That's when DJ starts to pull away. He just pulled off slowly," Cox recalled. "Where we were parked there was like there was a curve in the roadway. As we come around that curve, I can see somebody running from in between those two cars with their gun raised."

That's when Hess reportedly climbed on the hood of the car and began shooting.

The family had filed a civil lawsuit against Hess and another officer who pulled DJ from his car, handcuffed him and left him on the ground to bleed to death from his gunshot wound. However, a grand jury declined to indict Hess in 2011, and the US Attorney’s Office said in 2015 it would not bring federal charges against the officer, according to Westchester Journal News.

The Henrys have set up the DJ Henry Dream Fund to provide scholarships for youth in Massachusetts to participate in community-based athletics, wellness, arts and summer camps.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.