Pei-Sze Cheng reports.
After a Westchester County grand jury determined "no reasonable cause" to indict the white officers accused of shooting and killing a black college football player, the Department of Justice said it will examine the case.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan will review "all of the available evidence" to ascertain whether civil rights laws were broken when police fired through the windshield of a car carrying Danroy Henry Jr. and two friends as Henry attempted to drive away from a bar in Mount Pleasant last fall, DOJ confirmed to NBC New York on Wednesday.
Henry was killed; his 20-year-old friend Brandon Cox, who was in the passenger seat, suffered non life-threatening injuries; and a third friend in the rear seat, Desmond Hinds, was not hurt.
Henry, who died on the pavement, was black. So were his friends. Officer Aaron Hess of the Pleasantville Police Department, who fired the deadly shot from the hood of Henry's car, is white, as is another cop who fired his weapon as the drama unfolded.
Henry's father, Danroy Henry Sr., first urged the Department of Justice to probe the case just eight days after the October 15 shooting.
Lawyers who have handled similar cases told the New York Times the department was generally reticent to organize a broad investigation of incidents involving police brutality, and thus the case ended up in the hands of Westchester authorities – a local force that Henry Sr. said, at best, did not do their jobs.
Upon learning of the federal probe, Henry Sr. told the Times, "The Department of Justice will draw their own conclusions."
"If race is a factor, they'll look at the evidence and determine it. We're not speculating. We want an evidence-based outcome, not one influenced by agendas," he added.
Several key elements will likely shape the investigation. One video allegedly captures a police officer, weapon drawn, using a racial epithet against another black Pace football player trying to reach Danroy Henry to administer first aid as the young defensive back lay bleeding on the pavement.
Varying witnesses have given disparate accounts as to whether the epithet could actually be heard – or who said it – after watching the video. A version of the video posted on YouTube skips at various times with no echo of the alleged slur in the audible sections, reports the Times.
While the feds opted to investigate the case, there's no guarantee the police officers implicated will face prosecution.
Still, the justice department's decision in the case of a white cop mortally wounding a young unarmed black man may have political and emotional ramifications that extend beyond the community where the shooting occurred -- and beyond the family that continues to mourn the loss of their son.
"Now the Justice Department has to deal with a hot potato," Normal Siegel, who last year failed to push former Gov. David Paterson to name a special prosecutor to the case, told the Times. "The history is that they do not. They hope in due time it will disappear, but it won't."