Westchester District Attorney Mimi Rocah announced Thursday that her office is launching a review of two fatal police-involved shootings in the county from a decade ago.
Scrutiny of the deaths of Pace University student Danroy “DJ” Henry, and former Marine Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. will include the circumstances of the shootings, the investigation and charging decisions by the district attorney’s office and the grand jury decision not to return indictments in either case, Rocah said.
She said requests to review the cases came from both families as well as the public.
“Some may ask, why look backwards? The reason is simple: Today, we have appropriately higher expectations for scrutiny of police encounters with mentally ill and unarmed people and for prosecutors’ responses to such incidents,” Rocah said during her Thursday morning announcement. “The Henry and Chamberlain families and our community have felt strongly that further independent review is needed to heal the open wounds from these shootings. It is in that spirit that this review will be undertaken.”
Rocah said she has assembled a team of designated assistant district attorneys and investigators with the help of pro bono attorneys led by former U.S. district judge and federal prosecutor John Gleeson, a partner with the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton. He will be joined by Douglas S. Zolkind, a former federal public corruption prosecutor in the Southern District of New York and a partner at the firm.
Henry, 20, was shot and killed by a Pleasantville police officer at the Thornwood Town Center on Oct. 17, 2010. He was behind the wheel of a car that was parked in a fire lane when officers, who were responding to a fight at a nearby bar and restaurant, told him to move the vehicle. An officer was struck by the vehicle when it was put into drive, ended up on the hood of the car and shot through the windshield.
Chamberlain, a 68-year-old former U.S. Marine who suffered from mental illness, was shot and killed in his home on Nov. 19, 2011, following a confrontation with White Plains police after they responded to an accidental medical alert. At points during the confrontation, Chamberlain possessed a knife.
There is no timetable to complete the review. Rocah stressed that the facts will uncover whether any further action is needed and she will make the final determination about the findings.
Chamberlain’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. co-founder of Westchester Coalition for Police Reform, said too often there isn’t accountability when incidents involve Black and brown people.
He called the review “a big step” toward realizing positive change and building trust between the police and the communities that they serve.
“We’re definitely pleased today that the matter is under review by the Westchester County district attorney’s office and we are hopeful that this time around, 10 years later, that there will finally be some kind of accountability in the killing of our loved ones,” Chamberlain said.
Danroy Henry Sr. said that for more than a decade he and his family had been awaiting the announcement. He said if the review turns up that their son was at fault, then he and his family will accept that but if the person or people responsible did something wrong, they must be held accountable.
“Our family, from the very beginning, simply asked for a truthful account of why our son’s life was taken,” Henry said. “We did not rush to his defense. We simply said what is the absolute truth and does it support, by rule of law, his taking.”
Gleeson pledged an impartial and independent review of the circumstances of both shootings and the presentations made by prosecutors.
“Now more than ever there’s hardly a more important public interest than transparency in criminal justice,” Gleeson said. “This review you’ve directed is at the heart of what’s important in that regard today, in our country, in our county.”
On Thursday afternoon, Pace University President Marvin Krislov applauded the decision to review the Henry case.
“We are pleased by this development, and we continue to support the Henry family in their search for answers,” Krislov said. “We also express our deep appreciation to D.A. Rocah for taking this important step.”
Correction: In a previous version of this article, it incorrectly stated that DJ Henry was shot on Oct. 17, 2020. The correct date was Oct. 17, 2010. The Examiner regrets the error.