Officer Admits to Fabricated Report of DJ Henry’s Death

Officer Admits to Fabricated Report of DJ Henry's Death

Ebony Turner, Opinion Editor

Mount Pleasant Police Officer Ronald Beckley admitted during his recent deposition that his statement made about the night of Danroy “DJ” Henry, Jr.’s death was fabricated by Lt. Brian Fanelli.

According to the deposition proceeded by law firm Sussman & Watkins which began on Sept. 25, Beckley originally made statements that were distorted by Lt. Fanelli for the record, statements that became the official Mount Pleasant version of what occurred and was released to the public. The original accounts released by President of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) of Pleasantville Matthew Listwan featured the claim that DJ ignored specific instructions to stop his vehicle and drove into Beckley and Pleasantville Police Officer Aaron Hess, who was thrown onto the hood of the vehicle.

“Fearing for his life and that of others, Officer Hess fired his weapon to stop the threat that was presented by the vehicle and the actions of the driver,” said Listwan.

When Officer Hess came to Finnegan’s bar in the Thornwood Shopping Center where the events took place that night, he responded to radio transmission; he was not called to the scene. Officer Hess confessed during his deposition made Aug. 30 that he crossed the double-yellow line of traffic to approach Henry’s vehicle with his weapon already drawn, and did not identify himself as a cop. Hess continued with the original statements made that the vehicle was asked by an officer, now revealed to be Mount Pleasant Officer Ronald Gagnon, to stop the vehicle from moving while in the fire lane.

“I observed a vehicle that was parked in the fire lane take off from standing position… Officer Gagnon seemed to be knocked off balance,” said Hess. “And then I heard Officer Gagnon say ‘stop that vehicle’ or ‘stop that car.’”

Hess’ claims, however, are not supported by any of the witnesses at the scene, according to Henry’s mother Angella Henry.

“No witnesses who were there heard sirens or specific instructions made by the police at the scene telling DJ to move his car – not even Officer Beckley,” said Mrs. Henry.

Both Mrs. Henry and Danroy Henry, Sr. sat through the live taping of Hess’s deposition, a moment Mrs. Henry describes as giving her and her husband a spirit of peace.

“We gave [Hess] the opportunity to look us in the eye and he never did. But we have peace knowing that DJ was a man of God,” said Mrs. Henry.

Later on in his deposition, Hess states that he could not see the vehicle in the fire lane and that he only saw it move, and from there, decided to put himself in front of the vehicle despite claiming the vehicle showed no intentions of stopping.

“I didn’t move because I believed it was going to stop, because every other vehicle I’ve asked to stop in my career has stopped,” said Hess.

After claiming to have been unsuccessful in stopping the vehicle from moving at what he calls a high speed, Hess lunged on top of the hood of the car with his stomach down, left arm extended grabbing the top of the hood and his weapon out. He released from this position what he remembers to be “three or four shots” aimed at Henry’s center mass.

The chain events leading to Hess drawing his weapon contradicts what was originally said two years ago through his lawyer John Grant when Hess claimed he did not pull out his gun until he was hit by the vehicle.

In the deposition he maintains that he could not see who was driving or who was seated in the passenger seat; the only time he saw Henry was after he shot him and was on the ground handcuffed.

When asked by lawyer Michael Sussman why he shot at Henry “three or four” times, Hess replied, “I felt that was the necessary amount I needed to fire my weapon.”

He claims that he shot at Henry because during this circumstance he still feared for his safety.

Officer Beckley revealed to the contrary that the actual aggressor that evening was Officer Hess, not Henry. In the original report made, Officer Hess claimed that he left the scene with a wounded knee that required four and a half hours of surgery from being hit by Henry’s car, causing him to release his weapon and fire into the vehicle. Not only did Beckley confess to Henry hitting neither one of them, but Beckley fired at Hess’s knee to destabilize him once he jumped on top of the car because he perceived him as the aggressor.

“I was shooting at a person that I thought was the aggressor and was inflicting deadly physical force on another,” said Beckley.

Officer Beckley approached the scene after seeing four students enter into a car. After the students entered the car, he heard a gunshot to the left of him and then saw Officer Hess standing in the roadway with his weapon drawn. He was unaware of who Hess was and he could not clearly identify whether he was a police officer. After seeing Hess on top of the hood of the car with his arms to the driver’s side of the vehicle and his weapon one foot from the windshield, he heard three to four shots go off.

Beckley then, according to the Sussman & Watkins press release on Sep. 28, “drew his own weapon and aimed for Hess’ center mass.” Officer Beckley felt he was using unnecessary force, and while he aimed for his center mass he only hit his knee.

Lt. Fanelli, in his narrative report made of the incident a few days after, claimed to have repeatedly convinced Beckley that he did not shoot Hess even though Beckley had already made his account of the events that night that confirmed otherwise.

“I told Officer Beckley that I would call the hospital to confirm Officer Hess was not shot and that I would get right back to him,” said Fanelli.

Lt. Fanelli claimed to have spoken with the hospital who confirmed that Hess was not shot and then proceeded to assure Beckley that he was injured by the vehicle.

The vehicle, Henry, Sr. says, suggests otherwise.

“The car tells its own story and it is not supportive of their claims that night at all,” said Henry, Sr.

Henry’s closest friends, teammates and family always had a hunch about the investigation’s thoroughness and lack of honesty on behalf of the police department.

“Those of us who actually knew DJ very well knew that he wouldn’t do something like this. Who he was as a person does not reflect what happened,” said second year graduate student and former teammate of Henry, Eric Ortega.

“Those of us who knew DJ knew it was handled completely wrong and from the start we knew there was some sort of cover up – some sort of protection or police protecting themselves.”

Mrs. Henry, however, was proud that Officer Beckley had the courage to step forward after two years of this ongoing investigation.

“I am glad that Beckley is not hiding behind a wall or hiding behind a badge,” said Mrs. Henry.

However, the journey for truth does not stop here for the family. While the release of the depositions pushes the investigation deeper, the investigation is far from over.

“This isn’t the end,” said Mrs. Henry. “There are still pieces that need to be uncovered.”

While the family remains strong despite losing a son, a brother and in Mrs. Henry’s words having a “void that will never be filled,” their tenacity has not wavered in the face of tragedy.

“We’re fighting as people who have nothing to give; we lost our son,” said Henry, Sr. “[The Police Department] has everything to lose in this quest for truth and we will not stop until we get it; all we have asked for is clarity and facts.”

The Henry family will still continue opening doors for young children and families inspired by Henry’s legacy through the DJ Dream Fund during the duration of this investigation.