Henry Sires is Free! After Hung Jury -- Prosecutors Dismiss Charges! by Charisse Domingo

After a week of deliberations, the jury came back to announce a verdict. They were stuck -- at nine to three not guilty. The judge urged them to go back to the deliberation room and see if they could reach consensus. When they came back to court they announced they could not reach unanimity -- they would stay split down the middle with their vote - six to six. As the jury walked out, the foreman stuck around to answer questions from the prosecutor and Henry's attorney. He said ultimately, the officer was not consistent with his statements, and they had no physical evidence to prove the allegations. 

So after a lengthy trial, Henry had to wait, in jail, to hear whether or not the District Attorney's office was going to refile, and try again to prosecute him. This would be their third attempt after two hung juries.

But at court just a few days after, when Henry's case was called, the District Attorney's Office told the court that they were dismissing the charges against Henry! And just like that the weight of a potential ten years of prison, separated from his family, community, and life, was lifted. Henry's mother and son cried, as the audience, some who were just their for their own case, applauded. 

All that is left is to throw the welcome home party.

Appreciation for everyone who supported Henry and his family through this campaign.

Closing Arguments by Charisse Domingo

 (Community surrounding Henry's Sires mom in front of the Hall of Justice before entering court for the closing arguments.)

(Community surrounding Henry's Sires mom in front of the Hall of Justice before entering court for the closing arguments.)

For his final day of trial, Henry wore a white collar shirt and a tie. He looked to the back of the courtroom to see it packed with families, community members, mothers who lost their loved ones to police violence and youth. All were wearing a Protect Your People shirt. More supporters for Henry kept arriving to the courtroom as the DA started her arguments. There were no seats left in the courtroom pews. Before the group went into the courtroom, we held a support circle around Henry’s mother, and Reverend Moore from the NAACP lead a prayer. Then we walked in.

The DA started and argued that "a tall man is visible" referring to Deputy Vandergraff and he should have been seen by Henry. However, she did not consider that the same was true for Henry, yet Vandergraff failed to see him too.  She argued that Deputy Vandergraff lack of memory was due to the traumatic event he experienced. At one point she said, "All the incidents that have happened throughout the nation do not matter.” The DA raised her voice as she spoke about Henry in a demeaning way, accusing him of being a liar. These depictions made his Mrs. Sires, who has sat through every court date, cry.

When it was Henry’s attorney’s turn to present, he started by showing a photo of the view from the mountainside where Henry was shot. It was the serene view that brought Henry to that road on that fateful day. Then the attorney showed the picture of Henry in a hospital bed, bloody from the bullet shot by sheriff Vandergraff.

Henry’s attorney used physical evidence to prove his arguments. He displayed a photo of Henry's car that showed the gun shots being fired into the side, showing that Henry’s call could not have been facing directly at the officer. He used the bullet trajectories photos, even those initially presented by the prosecutor, to demonstrate the direction of the bullets.

And he discussed how Deputy Vandergraff, in the end, used lethal force for an illegal parking situation. He pointed out that Vandergraff's excessive use of force placed even placed Deputy Randall and the civilians at the scene in danger. He asked the jury to reject the DA's argument that Henry was a liar and asked them to apply the same principle she requested for Vandergraff's given that Henry was also in a traumatic event, especially after being shot in his hand.

Henry’s attorney also stated how Deputy Vandergraff contradicted himself and in fact corroborated Henry's testimony. The notion that Henry’s car posed a threat to Vandergraff just wasn’t not supported by science and facts. According to experts, the car was going less than five miles per hour.

Henry’s attorney always kept the same tone of voice and was polite even when speaking about Deputy Vandergraff. He used terms the jury could understand and made their decision about common sense. — Sarait Escorza

The Science of a Police Shooting by Charisse Domingo

 Note from Henry Sires mom as she listening to the bullet trajectory expert explain how all bullets were found in the vehicle except for one -- which was in Henry.

Note from Henry Sires mom as she listening to the bullet trajectory expert explain how all bullets were found in the vehicle except for one -- which was in Henry.

Several experts and scene reconstruction analysts presented in the trial Henry Sires. Sergeant Sheriff Herman Leon reconstructed the small bumping between Dep. Randall's front bar and Henry's Oldmobile back at the scene on Swagger Road in the East Hills. The analysis was important because it locates where Henry’s car was and where it went, as well as confirmed that the vehicle corroborated Henry’s testimony that he was traveling slowly down the road. The Sergeant presented how based on the scuff marks, he was able to determine the movement of Henry’s vehicle. Scenarios were presented in the form of photos, documenting every possible movement of both scenarios. And based on the evidence presented, it seems undeniable that Deputy Vandergaff was not in harms way or in fear of his life or safety. In fact, the scenarios placed Deputy Vandergraff at the right of the Oldsmobile while driving downhill. That conclusion is supported by the trajectory of the bullets into the side and back of Henry’s car.

Deputy Sheriff Taylor proceeded to present the bullet trajectory on Henry Sires Oldsmobile. From the reported six shots fired, DeputyTaylor only found evidence of 5 bullets in the green Oldsmobile, as the sixth was in Henry. One bullet was found lodged in the steering wheel and Deputy Taylor suggested that another bullet may have shattered the back rear panel window. Deputy Sheriff Mario Ledesma, who is now Detective working with the CSI team, collected blood samples from the interior driver door panel, steering wheel, center console, Henry's cell phone, floor on driver side, and driver seat. Blood that was shed after Henry Sires' near death.

Henry’s attorney’s expert was a scientist who used math-based scene modeling to come to his conclusions. He shows that Vandergraff’s testimony about what he sees and hear and when only makes sense if he was in a place that puts him out of the path of Henry’s vehicle. He shows in diagrams how Henry’s car would be driving by Deputy Vandergraff while the deputy was shooting.

When the prosecutor cross-examines the expert she has no questions that challenges his work or thinking. Frustrated, she thinks she finally has landed on a question that will strike a blow to his credibility, “Isn’t it true that the defense is paying you to be here?” The expert responds, “No, I am hear on my own dime.”

- Jose Valle

The Sheriff Who Shot Henry: "I Don't Independently Recall" by Charisse Domingo

Deputy Vandergraff took the stand today. He is wearing a suit, and not a Sheriff's uniform. This is the Officer that shot Henry Sires, 6 times. One which hit him. 

In 2015, he was assigned to patrol the East Foothills of San Jose, an area of the city that makes you appreciate how beautiful this city can be, how clean air is just some miles up.  Now, Deputy Vandergraff's job is a Detective for Santa Clara County for the Jail Crimes Unit. 

When he is being questioned by the District Attorney, his answers are clear. Ready. To the point. When the defense asks him questions, he's confused. He's evasive. He refers to reports like it's a person quoting his own self. Either way, he's full of contradictions -- of his own story and of the previous witnesses' story of what happened that day.  

He says when he came up to the scene, it was Officer Randall who first started yelling, making the scene 'unusual'. However, Officer Randall said he yelled because Deputy Vandergraff was shooting. Within moments of getting to the scene, Vandergraff already had drawn his firearm.  

Then he said he saw Henry's car moving. But he didn't see anyone in the vehicle.  He said it was moving in his direction. He said that's why he fired -- because he believed it was going to hit him.  He said he fired 4 times, even though during opening, there was a sketch of Henry's car showing 6 shots fired, and the dispatch call that was played said 12 shots fired.  

He then checked if anyone or himself was hurt. He checked if he was shot. He just wanted to make himself feel ok. At a previous hearing, he said he was so out of his senses he thought the car shot at him. 

As his testimony drags on for a day and a half, he's starting to rely on a few key phrases to get him through Avi's questions.

  • "All I know is that the vehicle was coming at me."
  • "I don't independently recall."

At one point, he even said, "I'm drawing a blank." And to explain why he said one thing to investigators during the night of the incident versus today at court, he said that he just wasn't 100% right and what he had said in the interview transcripts may not be accurate. 

What's clear though are the contradictions between these two officers of what happened that morning, his contradictions with his own story, and how evasive he's being. 

Officer Randall: Responding to a 911 Call for a Parking Violation by Charisse Domingo

Officer Randall is a Santa Clara County Sheriff who was first on the scene to respond to a 911 call the morning of March 25, 2015 -- on Swaggart Road where Henry and his friends had driven up to enjoy the view. 

Randall says he approached Henry and asked if he had an ID.  Henry replied that he didn't.  Henry was on the driver's side of the vehicle.  Officer Randall then says he went to the rear of the vehicle to check out the license plate and approached the second vehicle which had 2 women.  That's when Randall said he heard the green car door shut and the engine start.  He said that's when he thinks the second deputy, Deputy Vandergraff, might have arrived.

What came out in trial was that Randall had been drinking the night before.

Randall stated that he saw the very first shot that Deputy Vandergraff fired in the direction of the driver (Henry).   


Opening Arguments by Charisse Domingo

The courtroom at Department 37 is filled today for opening statements of Henry's trial.  Henry is seated next to his public defender Avi Singh, a young attorney housed at the Santa Clara County Public Defender's office who is as passionate as he is sharp.  Henry is freshly wearing a white and blue checkered shirt, clothes brought to him by his mom --- different from his regular jumpsuit he's worn since March of 2015 when he was first detained to face these charges.

In the second row behind Henry is his mom Debora, hair pulled back tight with a flowy ponytail, wearing a beige and white dress suit, as regal as Sunday morning. She has her purse on one side, and her notebook and pen on her lap -- the first half of which already have worn pages of notes and notes from many courtdates she's sat in.

She is pointing out who the people are to Henry's six year old son who is already slumping down the chair. His 14 year old nephews can sense a little bit more and is excited as the courtroom pews start to fill.  I sit next to these two young boys to say hello, introduce myself and De-Bug, and in those 14 year olds, I see the crossing of time between Henry's past and future. They love their Uncle so much.  "He is the strongest man I know -- in both ways," says Tamarea with the gentle eyes. I think, wow they are only two years older than Tamir Rice. 

The Jury files in, half white, half Asian; half men, half women. They look majority in their 40's and 50's, maybe some in their 30's.  As they enter, the courtroom audience stands.  This morning the pews of the courtroom are filled with community members from De-Bug, and public defenders whose faces we've seen in the streets and in the courts.  They're part of a young crew who defend Black and Brown lives in the courts. The community members who have shown up for Henry are moms and sisters who themselves have had loved ones facing charges in the courts.  One of them is Gail Noble, whose son Lamar was arrested and beaten by Santa Clara County Sheriffs during the 2013 Martin Luther King Jr weekend.  He later faced resisting arrest charges that after a lot of community pressure, were dismissed by the District Attorney's office . 

The jury is all intent looking at the District Attorney as she starts her opening arguments. She starts out by saying "At Any Cost" -- as though Henry's 'fleeing' from the cops had that as the bottom line, and as though the multiple shootings on Henry were justified. And then she compared that to Officer Vandergraff that shot Henry -- a 14 year Santa Clara County veteran cop who stated this was the first time using his firearm at any human being.  The previous times being at injured animals.  That morning, Officer Vandergraff shot at Henry 6 times in the side and back of his car, 1 of them hitting his hand.

Avi then speaks, and what is most stark is how he opens and closes his statements.  He opens with a picture of what Henry was looking forward to that morning -- looking at the green sprawling view of San Jose from atop the East foothills.  And then closing it with a juxtaposed picture of Officer Vandergraff standing on one side, and on the other is Henry, in a hospital bed, injured from the shooting. -- Charisse Domingo

Finished Jury Selection by Charisse Domingo

The jury is complete -- half White, half Asian, maybe one Latino. Half women, half men.  

Right after jury selection is complete, Debora, Henry's mom, stands outside Santa Clara County Superior Court holding a photo of her and Henry. This is the screensaver on her phone, and she looks at it to give her strength. After more than a year of court dates, the next day will be the opening arguments of his trial.