Rihanna, Jay-Z, and Pharrell Williams are among the high-profile celebrities who are demanding justice for Danroy "DJ" Henry, a Black college student who was killed by a white officer nearly a decade ago.
The stars sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice this week, asking authorities to reopen the investigation into Henry's fatal shooting. According to People magazine, the letter was dated July 13 and addressed to U.S. Attorney General William Barr. The signees requested the case be re-examined to determine if racial discrimination led to Henry's death.
"This agonizing case remains an unhealed wound for the Henry family and the people of New York. DJ, a young Black youth with a bright future ahead of him, was killed for no apparent reason inside his own vehicle," states the letter, which was also signed by Odell Beckham Jr., Taraji Henson, Charlize Theron, Gabrielle Union, Michael Williams, Kerry Washington, and Mary J. Blige.
The letter continues: "The facts of the case reek of local conflict of interest, racial bias and even false testimony. But like so many other unarmed and innocent young, black men who find themselves guilty of being at the wrong time, DJ, too, lost his life for no good reason and with absolutely no good explanation — to this very day. Justice, it appears, has been denied."
On Oct. 17, 2010, Henry was hanging out with a group of friends outside Finnegan's Grill in Thornwood, New York, when police responded to a call about a fight. Although Henry—a 20-year-old Pace University student—was not involved in the altercation, officers said he was parked in a fire lane and was asked to move. It was at that time, authorities claimed Hess sped off and struck Pleasantville Police Officer Aaron Hess, propelling the cop on the hood of his car. Hess then began shooting through the vehicle's front window, wounding Henry and a passenger.
Attorney Michael Sussman, who represents Henry's family, has said the vehicle was moving at a slow speed when Hess lunged at the vehicle before opening fire. Hess claimed he was in fear for his life and argued his reaction was not racially motivated because he could not get a clear view of the driver.
In a 2012 deposition, Mount Pleasant officer Ronald Beckley claimed he had fired at Hess, believing he was the aggressor in the situation: "I was shooting at a person that I thought was the aggressor and was inflicting deadly physical force on another," Beckley reportedly told Sussman. The officer would go on to alter his statement.
Brandon Cox, who was also in Henry's car at the time of the shooting, also claimed that the vehicle was moving slowly before Hess jumped on the hood.
"He started to make a forward motion to move forward. That's when DJ starts to pull away. He just pulled off slowly," Cox said during a 48 Hours special. "Where we were parked there was like there was a curve in the roadway. As we come around that curve, I can see somebody running from in between those two cars with their gun raised."
Moments later, Hess began shooting.
"I could feel something hit my arm," Cox recalled. "At that moment, I'm not sure what's going on, not sure what it is, and I'm just ducking down to just try to get out of harm's way."
In 2011, a grand jury declined to indict anyone in Henry's death; and four years later, the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided it would not file federal charges against officer Hess. But despite these decisions, figures like Rihanna, Jay, and Pharrell refuse to give up the fight. They are now calling on DOJ to "deliver the justice that restores this young man's reputation, while giving hope to other young Black men who are just like him and desperate for change."