RICHMOND, Va. — One man died after a police officer in New York state told him to move his illegally parked car. Another, in the midst of a mental health crisis, was fatally shot by an officer on a Virginia highway.
A third man died in Oklahoma after a struggle with police. His last words echoed the ones used by Black men in similar circumstances and the chants at civil rights protests: “I can’t breathe.”
The officers involved in the deaths of Danroy “DJ” Henry Jr., 20, Marcus-David Peters, 24, and Derrick Elliot Scott, 41, all were cleared of wrongdoing. But the protests since George Floyd was killed during a Minnesota police encounter have encouraged the men’s families to try to get the investigations reopened.
Racial injustice activists elsewhere, dismayed by a Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to charge any officers in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, 26, are pressing authorities to give other cases a second look.
These are three of the cases prosecutors have been asked to reexamine:
Marcus-David Peters was a popular high school biology teacher when he appeared to emotionally unravel on May 14, 2018, in Richmond, Virginia. An officer’s body camera captured it on video.
“Male seems to be mentally unstable as we speak,” Officer Michael Nyantakyi said over his police radio after Peters side-swiped several vehicles and crashed his car next to a highway ramp.
Peters, 24, climbed out of his car – naked – and ran into heavy rush hour traffic. He was hit by a vehicle, got up and then laid back down on Interstate 95, flailing his limbs.
Nyantakyi pointed a stun gun at him. The teacher ran toward toward the officer, shouting and threatening to kill him. The officer, who is also Black, deployed the stun gun, which appeared to have no effect, then shot Peters with his service weapon.
Peters died later at a hospital. A prosecutor cleared Nyantakyi three months later.
The Peters family and local activists have called on Richmond’s top prosecutor to reopen the investigation.
“Marcus needed help, not death,” Peters’ sister, Princess Blanding, said.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin agreed to review the case file, but said that does not guarantee a relaunched investigation.
Danroy ‘DJ’ Henry Jr.
DJ Henry had barely started his adult life on the day it ended, Oct. 17, 2010, after a police officer in a hamlet north of New York City asked the college student to move his car out of a fire lane.
Henry was a 20-year-old football player at Pace University. He and some friends went to a local restaurant after the homecoming game, but left when a fight broke out among other patrons.
Police from two departments responded to the fight. After an officer asked Henry to move his Nissan Altima, he drove across a parking lot and onto an access road.
That’s where Pleasantville Officer Aaron Hess stepped in front of the car and ended up on the hood. Hess fired four gunshots through the windshield, killing Henry and wounding one of his friends.
The officer said he believed Henry was trying to run him over . A grand jury cleared Hess of wrongdoing in 2011.
Henry’s case, like others, has received renewed scrutiny in recent months. Jay-Z, Rihanna, Kerry Washington and other celebrities asked the U.S. Department of Justice in July to investigate. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Pleasantville police initially claimed that Henry drove aggressively toward both Hess and Mt. Pleasant Officer Ronald Beckley. But during a deposition for the Henry family’s subsequent wrongful death lawsuit, Beckley gave a different account.
Beckley said he fired his own gun at Hess because when he saw the unfamiliar fellow cop on Henry’s car, he took him for “the aggressor.” He said he told his superiors that the night Henry was killed.
Henry’s family reached a $6 million civil settlement in 2016. His father wants the criminal case reopened because he questions if the grand jury heard all the relevant evidence.
“I’m not hopeful, but I have hope,” Danroy Henry Sr. said. “We have to keep working in the space that hope creates for these things to be possible.”
Derrick Elliot Scott
Vickey Scott said she screamed and fell to the floor the first time she watched a video of her son moaning and telling police “I can’t breathe” over and over while pinned to the ground.
“Every single day of my life, I am hoping and praying that those officers are charged with my son’s death,” the mother said.
Her son, Derrick Elliot Scott, 41, died on May 20, 2019, almost one year before George Floyd, 46, used those same words with a police officer’s knee pressed on his neck.
Police encountered Scott while responding to a 911 call about a man brandishing a gun in a parking lot.
When the officers approached him, Scott ran. The officers tackled him to the ground. As they tried to put handcuffs on Scott, he repeatedly told them, “I can’t breathe.”
The video shows an officer pulling a handgun out of Scott’s pocket. Police said it was loaded.
Scott died later at a hospital.
An autopsy listed the probable cause of death as a collapsed lung and said several conditions likely contributed, including physical restraint, recent methamphetamine use, asthma, emphysema and heart disease.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater cleared the officers of misconduct and any criminal wrongdoing. Prater said this week that he is not inclined to reopen the investigation at this point.
AP writer Sean Murphy contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.