Family, Interrupted

By Katherine Ozment | Boston Magazine |

EXACTLY WHAT TRANSPIRED in the hours after the Henrys said goodbye to their son at that pizza place has already been the subject of inquiries by Mount Pleasant, New York, police and Westchester County prosecutors, and is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. As yet, there has been no definitive account, but what everyone can agree on is that around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, DJ, Brandon Cox, and a third friend, all of them African American, were parked in a fire lane outside Finnegan’s Grill in the Thornwood Town Center shopping plaza, not far from Pace. They were waiting for two more friends to come out of the bar.

Inside Finnegan’s, the owner had just called the police to report a fight and ask for help clearing the place. Soon, six police officers arrived from two different departments, Mount Pleasant and the nearby village of Pleasantville.

In the parking lot, Mount Pleasant Officer Ronald Gagnon pulled up behind DJ’s Nissan Altima and sounded his horn twice to get DJ to move from the fire lane. When he got no response, Gagnon left his patrol car and walked over to tap on DJ’s tinted window. DJ moved the car. This is where the stories diverge.

According to the police, DJ sped up and hit Pleasantville Officer Aaron Hess, who was standing in his way and was thrown onto the hood of the car. At that point, Hess, fearing for his safety, drew his weapon, a .40-caliber Glock, and fired four bullets into the windshield. Mount Pleasant Officer Ronald Beckley, who was up the road a bit, says the car veered toward him, so he jumped out of the way as the Nissan crashed into his cruiser, his gun discharging into the hood of DJ’s car.

Bystanders and DJ’s passengers tell a very different story. They say DJ moved his car from the fire lane at a reasonable speed, and that Hess jumped in front of him, his gun already drawn, and started firing. Some witnesses say Beckley then intentionally shot into the car as well. Both Hess and Beckley declined to comment for this story.

DJ was hit twice in the chest and once in the upper arm. “They shot me,” he said as he was pulled from the car by police. “They shot me.” He was handcuffed and left bleeding on the curb for at least 10 minutes. Police officers later said they didn’t know the extent of his injuries because there was not a lot of blood.

Cox, who’d been sitting in the front passenger’s seat, was shot once in the upper arm. He got out of the car and was soon handcuffed. Desmond Hinds, a wide receiver for Pace who’d been in the back seat, was shoved to the ground by a police officer and says he sustained a concussion. Young women exited Finnegan’s screaming, and other officers drew their guns and Tasers to fend off the friends who were rushing to DJ’s aid. One of them, DJ’s teammate Daniel Parker, held up his American Red Cross CPR card, but a police officer told him to stay back. Parker claims he looked helplessly into DJ’s eyes as he watched him dying. Parker and three other football players who tried to help DJ were arrested.

Afterward, when police searched the trunk of DJ’s car, they found a soccer ball, a basketball, and a new football jersey, a gift for his brother, Kyle.

ARRIVING AT THE Westchester Medical Center, the Henrys were led to a curtained area where DJ’s body lay covered in a hospital gown. His eyes had been taped shut, and a tube came out of his mouth. On his wrists were two tattoos: “Family” on one and “First” on the other. Dan, Angella, and Kyle stood over him, crying and praying.

  • maureen

    Thank you Katherine Ozment for this wonderful piece, you did a fabulous job of capturing the essence of this family.

  • Snowmama

    My heart continues to break for this family, and shocking turn of events in the lives of DJ and the wonderful young college students and patrons trying to save his life. I am furious that the actions of one cop can so alter the lives of so many kids. It’s disgraceful also how the state of NY has treated this grieving family, absolutely disgraceful!

  • J

    …but I pray you find peace in knowing that this was not just about DJ but for all the families you have experienced loss of their children in the hands of that silent “blue” wall.

  • Patricia

    This was a great article and portrayal of the Henry family. Our prayers continue to go out for them as they heal from this tragedy. I pray God grants them the peace they desire in knowing the absolute truth. Blessings all of them.

  • nora

    Dan and Angella Henry have shown remarkable strength, grace and restraint during this tragedy. It is difficult to grieve privately yet keep this story in the public eye in an effort to find the truth

  • Lori

    Thank you Boston Magazine for this piece. So well done, and so important. The horrible wrong can’t be undone, but major media staying focused on this story may lead to justice and some degree of peace and closure for the Henry family. They need our help. Thank you for this story.