A former federal prosecutor in New York is being called in to assist the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office in reopening the investigation into a pair of police-involved shootings that left a 20-year-old Pace University student from Massachusetts and former US Marine dead.
Danroy “DJ” Henry, an Easton, Massachusetts man who was a junior at Pace was shot to death by police officers in Pleasantville in October 2010 while he was in a moving vehicle.
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Thirteen months later, Kenneth Chamberlain, a 68-year-old veteran who suffered from mental illness was shot and killed in his home in November 2011 following a confrontation with police in White Plains.
No indictment was returned by grand juries in either incident, and the proceedings were automatically sealed by the court.
On Thursday, June 10, Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah announced that her office will be reviewing the cases with the assistance of a team of pro bono attorneys led by John Gleeson, a Debevoise & Plimpton LLP partner who previously served as a US District Judge in the Eastern District of New York and was also a federal prosecutor.
Rocah said that the pro bono team also includes Debevoise & Plimpton counsel Douglas Zolkind, a former federal public corruption prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, and associates from the firm.
Gleeson and Zolkind have been sworn in as Special Assistant District Attorneys for purposes of the review, the DA noted.
“For the families of Kenneth Chamberlain and DJ Henry, the pain of their loss has not gone away over the past 10 years, nor have the questions they have about why their loved ones were killed,” Rocah said.
“The Chamberlain and Henry families and many members of the Westchester community have asked me to review the circumstances of the shootings, the investigation and charging decisions by the DA’s Office, and the grand juries’ decision not to return indictments in either case. Today, I am announcing that I will do exactly that.”
Both cases have drawn the consternation of many, with rallies and marches held for each following their deaths. In the past decade, there have been multiple calls for the cases to be reopened and reviewed, a task that Rocah is taking up.
“Some may ask, why look backwards?,” Rocah added. “The reason is simple: Today, we have appropriately higher expectations have for scrutiny of police encounters with mentally ill and unarmed people and for prosecutors’ responses to such incidents.
“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 added that “I want to be very clear: While I have chosen to conduct this review, I am in no way pre-judging the outcome.
“At this point, I cannot say whether any further action should be taken,” she said. “I can say that further action beyond the review will only be taken if the facts and law warrant it. I will make the final determination on what, if any, additional steps are appropriate.”
Rocah touted her Special District Attorneys, noting that their expertise and experience will be key in maintaining the integrity of the review.
“Because the District Attorney’s Office played a central role in the original investigation and presentation to the grand juries, I believe that having Judge Gleeson participate in the review and make recommendations to me is the best way to proceed,” Rocah said.
“Judge Gleeson’s record as a federal judge has earned him widely-held respect and a reputation for fairness and integrity, which I saw firsthand when I served as a law clerk for him many years ago.”
There is no set timetable for the completion of the review process.
“It is a privilege to assist in this important undertaking,” Gleason stated. “Our team looks forward to examining the circumstances of these two shootings, as well as the investigations of them and the evidence presented to the grand juries, and making an independent recommendation to DA Rocah concerning how best to proceed.”
Pace University President Marvin Krislov said that “In the ten and a half years since Pace student DJ Henry was shot and killed by a Pleasantville police officer, his family has asked for one thing: the truth about what happened on the night of his death.
"Today, Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah announced an inquiry with the aim of finding an answer," Krislov added. "We are pleased by this development, and we continue to support the Henry family in their search for answers. We also express our deep appreciation to D.A. Rocah for taking this important step.”
Members of both the Henry and Chamberlain family also spoke at the announcement of Gleason’s appointment on June 10.
“In the 3,088 days since our son was killed, we have simply asked for an objective review of the absolute truth surrounding his killing,” Henry’s parents said. “We welcome today’s news as a necessary and overdue step which we hope will lead to some more just outcome.”
Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., the son of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., added: “My family and I are pleased that the matter is being reviewed by the Westchester County DA’s office.
“After 10 years, we believe there may never be actual justice for my father, but we are hopeful that there will be some accountability in the killing of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. In my opinion, this is a big step toward building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
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