48 HOURS brings viewers a story of dedicated parents and their struggle to restore their son’s reputation after he was shot dead by a police officer, in “Defending DJ,” to be broadcast Saturday, Dec. 1 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
CBS News special correspondent James Brown and 48 HOURS take viewers back to the early morning hours of Oct. 17, 2010, when Danroy “DJ” Henry, a Pace University football player, was shot dead by Pleasantville, N.Y., police officer Aaron Hess. That event triggered a seven-year journey for DJ’s family as they searched for answers.
“We’re not anti-police,” says Danroy Henry, Sr., DJ’s father. “We’re just trying to understand what the facts tell us. Was it a justified shooting or was it not justified? Because if it wasn’t – it was murder.”
“People believed fervently that they knew what happened,” says Brian Sokoloff, who represents Hess. “And whenever you hear of a case like this, you can’t believe first impressions.”
“Defending DJ” is a story that raises significant questions about how the police responded; the narrative set early by the Mount Pleasant police, who claimed Henry tried to mow down officers with his car; and what really happened that night. It’s also about one family’s intensely personal quest to find the truth about their son’s final night alive.
During a night out at a bar with his teammates, a fight broke out among other patrons, and police were called. DJ and his friends left the bar and were waiting in his car in a fire lane. DJ’s passengers say an officer knocked on the back window indicating DJ should move. According to police, when that officer approached DJ’s car, he sped off. Soon after, Hess, then a Pleasantville police officer, ended up on the hood, shooting in. DJ was fatally shot while behind the wheel of his car.
“The next thing I know, the car has come to a stop and DJ…goes, ‘They shot me, they shot me,’” says passenger Brandon Cox.
“And then he just made this moan, this moan I’ll never forget,” says passenger Desmond Hinds.
When it was over, Henry was dying in the street, and he and his friends were in handcuffs.
In a hastily called press conference, Mount Pleasant police Chief Louis Alagno defended the police officers and said Henry tried to run them over while accelerating away from the scene. Hess maintained he shot into the car because he feared for his life and had no other option. Henry’s friends and witnesses denied he was driving fast and said he wasn’t trying to hit the officer. They paint a far different picture. Witnesses also noted that Henry was slow to receive medical attention.
What the Henrys heard from police about their son didn’t ring true, either. The Henrys vowed to learn the truth – even if it was bad. They just wanted to know what happened to their son.
“Defending DJ” features interviews with Henry’s family and friends, including those who were with him the night he died, the Henry family attorney and Hess’s attorney. The hour also includes video footage of Henry’s car pulling away from the bar that fateful night and a look at Henry’s car, still held by his attorney.
Despite questions raised about his actions the night Henry died, Hess was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
“I want to make this clear: we are not looking to demonize Danroy Henry, who tragically lost his life that night,” says Sokoloff. “An officer is entitled to protect his own life. That’s the answer.”
“We just wanted to know if he was justified in taking our son’s life,” says Danroy Henry.
48 HOURS: “Defending DJ” is produced by Alvin Patrick and Sarah Prior. Richard Fetzer is the field producer. Atticus Brady is the producer-editor, and Gary Winter and Michael Sheehan are the editors. Judy Tygard is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.