The lawyer for the parents of slain Pace University student D.J. Henry accused Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno and Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore Thursday of covering up key information in the case to protect law enforcement officials.
Attorney Michael Sussman, representing Angella and Dan Henry in the wrongful death suit of their son, said that Mount Pleasant Police Officer Ronald Beckley’s statement to a department lieutenant three hours after the incident that came to light during his deposition revealed that he fired one bullet at Pleasantville Police Officer Aaron Hess because Beckley thought Hess was the aggressor and didn’t know he was an officer.
Hess discharged four rounds into the 20-year-old’s car at about 1:20 a.m. on Oct. 17, 2010, in the Thornwood Town Center, fatally wounding Henry with three bullets because he feared he was in danger. The student, who had been asked by another officer to move his vehicle out of the fire lane after cops had been called to a report of a fight at Finnegan’s Grill, died a short time later.
Sussman said Alagno’s public communications through a press release and a press briefing later that morning never included Beckley’s account of the incident to Lt. Brian Fanelli. Instead, Alagno told “a categorical lie” by stating in a release that “the suspect vehicle (continued) in the fire lane heading directly toward another Mount Pleasant officer who also fired at the vehicle.”
He also said that two district attorney investigators met with Alagno and Fanelli and were aware of Beckley’s statements but went along with Alagno’s account.
“The fact that Westchester County’s district attorney allowed Louis Alagno to lead the investigation after it knew that Louis Alagno had intentionally and falsely reported in great detail this event is shameful and can’t be tolerated,” said Sussman at the press conference in Tarrytown with Henry’s parents in attendance.
In February 2011, a grand jury found no reasonable cause to indict Hess for his role in the shooting.
Henry’s parents have filed a federal lawsuit against the Town of Mount Pleasant and the Village of Pleasantville for $120 million. Depositions connected with the suit began last August and are continuing, Sussman said. Another 50 to 60 people still need to be deposed, he said.
Sussman said it is obvious why Alagno would decide to change the account of the incident and why the district attorney would go along. He said the strategy behind the release was about “setting the tone” to prejudice the public.
“The script shows a desire to protect the police, he said. “Why? It doesn’t take a genius to understand he’s the police chief, these are his people. There’s another police officer from a neighboring department.”
Sussman suggested that Hess may have injured his knee from Beckley’s gunshot rather than from being struck by the car. He said experts for his client who reconstructed the scene have concluded that Henry was going no more than 10 miles per hour when Hess jumped in front of the car and ended up on the vehicle’s hood. Had the car been traveling at a higher speed, Hess would have ended up through the windshield and wouldn’t have been able to take out his gun and fire four shots into the car, Sussman said.
Mount Pleasant officials declined to respond to Sussman’s allegations on Thursday. The office of Supervisor Joan Maybury issued a one-sentence statement that the town would not comment on the matter because it involves pending litigation.
A spokesman for the district attorney referred all inquiries about the matter to the Feb. 14, 2011, press release that was issued after the grand jury completed its work. There were 85 witnesses who testified, which included Hess and three other officers, who initially responded without immunity. As a result, the matter was thoroughly investigated, the spokesman stated.
During the press conference, Dan Henry said that he and his wife are upset that Alagno has been allowed to continue in his role as police chief.
“It deserves a lot of questions of the behaviors and the behaviors of the police,” Henry said.
Henry’s parents and Sussman also disputed the elevated blood-alcohol found in D.J. Henry’s system during the autopsy. Sussman said that Finnegan’s Grill owner Steven Van Ostrand observed Henry for nearly two hours prior to the shooting and had no concerns about whether he was intoxicated.
A blood-alcohol level of .13 was found in Henry’s body at the time of his death and reported in the autopsy. In New York State, a person is legally intoxicated at .08.
Sussaman called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would require a special prosecutor to be retained to investigate all incidents where deadly force is used by police.
“No one should have confidence that these same district attorneys can fairly investigate mortal force used by any of these police agencies,” Sussman said.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/