NEW YORK (AP) — No federal civil rights charges will be brought in the 2010 shooting death of a college football player by a suburban New York police officer who says he shot him in his moving car when he failed to stop, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said evidence in the shooting of 20-year-old Danroy Henry Jr. in Thornwood failed to establish the “exacting standard of criminal intent” required for criminal charges.
Prosecutors said in a release that a thorough review of evidence in the Oct. 18, 2010 shooting of the Pace University football player did not show that a law enforcement officer acted with deliberate and specific intent to break the law.
“Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a willful federal criminal civil rights violation,” the release said.
It said the decision to close the case followed an exhaustive examination of all evidence.
Michael Sussman, a lawyer for the Henry family in a civil lawsuit against the Town of Mount Pleasant and two officers, said the family was “extremely disappointed with the result.”
Aaron Hess, the Pleasantville officer who shot the Easton, Mass., resident, was earlier cleared by a grand jury. Henry was shot in his car as he drove through a parking lot away from a disturbance that spilled out of a bar on Homecoming Day. Henry was black; Officer Hess is white.
Prosecutors said the officer shouted for Henry to stop and then stepped in front of Henry’s car. They said there were inconsistencies in witness accounts, but that it appeared Henry’s car was braking when it struck the officer, who wound up on the car’s roof. The officer then fired through the car’s windshield, wounding one passenger and killing Henry, the government said.
Prosecutors cited several factors weighing against criminal charges. They said the altercation took seconds, with no prior interaction between the officer and Henry, and that the car struck the officer and injured him before the officer fired his weapon as he made “a split decision under conditions of extreme danger, conditions under which the law generally allows latitude to a police officer’s judgment.”
“While portions of isolated testimony from certain of the witnesses at the scene might suggest that the Pleasantville officer acted with bad intent, there is not enough consistent, credible witness testimony to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer acted with the requisite willfulness to deprive Mr. Henry of his constitutional rights,” prosecutors said.
“Finally, although racial animus need not be shown to establish a deprivation of rights under color of law, the evidence indicated that because of the darkness, the glare of the headlights and streetlamps, and the condensation on the windows, the Pleasantville officer would in all likelihood not have been able to see who the driver was or the driver’s race,” they added.
Prosecutors said Bharara expressed his deep sympathy to Henry’s family when he informed them of the decision earlier Tuesday.