The killing of Pace University student Danroy Henry, 20, of Easton, Mass., has engendered widely differing accounts from police and from witnesses, many of them fellow students. Henry's parents, citing a leak of autopsy information indicating their son was driving drunk when he was shot, have called for a federal investigation.
"In circumstances like these, it takes time to find out exactly what occurred and what people were thinking," said Pleasantville police Chief Anthony Chiarlitti.
Henry was killed Oct. 17, when two officers fired at his moving car after police were called to a disturbance that spilled out of a bar in Thornwood, N.Y., near the Pace campus.
One was Pleasantville Officer Aaron Hess, who was hit by the car and required surgery. His chief described Hess, a former Marine, as a trusted officer with "an outstanding record."
"Until someone demonstrates to my satisfaction that Officer Hess did something wrong, I will continue to fully support him," Chiarlitti said.
He said any attempt to characterize Hess as racist "is inappropriate and irresponsible." He did not say who, if anyone, had called the officer racist, and he did not take questions at his news conference.
Michael Sussman, a lawyer for Henry's parents, has said the circumstances of the shooting require an investigation to determine if racial bias or stereotyping played a role. The officers who fired at Henry's car - Hess and Mount Pleasant Officer Ronald Beckley - are white; Henry's family is biracial.
Chiarlitti also said it was wrong to judge Henry based on what he called the "unconfirmed" finding of a high blood-alcohol level.
"Please do not rush to judgment on any aspect of this tragic incident," the chief said.
He said only one other Pleasantville officer was at the scene and his department did not make any arrests. There never has been a fatal shooting by a Pleasantville officer, he added. Officials say they do not know whose bullet killed Henry.
Pleasantville is a village within the Town of Mount Pleasant.
Chiarlitti and Mayor Peter Scherer pledged cooperation with any investigation - including a federal one. The U.S. attorney's office in New York said Monday it is monitoring the Westchester County district attorney's investigation, consistent with its general practice.
Sussman said after the police chief's news conference that both the Pleasantville and Mount Pleasant departments "have potential liability for the actions of their officers and no investigation they do could be objective and impartial. Accordingly, we reiterate our request that the Department of Justice and the FBI assume full responsibility for this investigation."
Chief Louis Alagno of the Mount Pleasant Police Department, who is leading an investigation that includes 15 state police officers and four of his own, said he can "assure the Henry family and everyone else involved that this will be a complete and thorough investigation."
"We're working in close coordination with the district attorney and I understand the Department of Justice is monitoring," Alagno said. "No person will be able to unfairly influence this investigation."
He said he had seen no official autopsy results.