Protesters Demand Answers Following Man's Subway Death after Police Involvement

Protesters in Philadelphia demand answers after a 25-year-old Black man was electrocuted by subway tracks as he was being pursued by law enforcement officers. Police were trying to arrest Bryant “BJ” Henry Jr. for a drug offense when he reportedly fled into a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) station, made contact with the electrified third rail, and died. Philadelphia Police said Henry was being arrested near Broad Street and Onley Avenue just after 8:30 p.m. on July 24 after police searched him and found what they suspected was crack cocaine. He then broke free and ran away. Henry, who had handcuffs on one of his wrists, ran into a Broad Street Line station and touched the electrified third rail alongside the tracks, police told The Philadelphia Inquirer. However, two witnesses told the newspaper that an officer had deployed a Taser on Henry, causing him to fall onto the rail and be electrocuted to death.

“I saw him Tase him, which caused him to lose his balance,” a man who followed Henry and the officers to the end of the platform told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I just watched him fall. I watched the smoke leave his body, and then the two cops told me I had to leave.”

Another witness, a woman who was near the stairs at the station, said she was close enough to see the sparks emerge from the Taser. She claimed an officer told her that the entire incident had been recorded by his body camera. SEPTA said that the incident occurred out of the sight of the station’s security cameras. Both witnesses, who declined to be identified over fears of retaliation, told the newspaper that Henry was fleeing towards the tunnel when he was Tased. The woman said that the handcuffs on Henry’s wrist hit the third rail. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the woman claimed she and other witnesses argued with police.

“There was a girl who was taking video. They went over to her and took her phone, and they trashed it,” she claimed. “The cops kept telling me, ‘You need to leave.’ I said, ‘I’m not going nowhere. You shouldn’t have murdered him like that.’”

Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson Capt. Sekou Kinebrew told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he was unsure as to why police initially stopped Henry, who was unarmed at the time. James Cade, Henry’s friend, said Henry was selling bottled water near the SEPTA station at the time. Kinebrew refused to confirm the allegations that officers deployed a Taser on Henry, citing an ongoing investigation by the homicide unit. “Let the investigator get all those facts,” he said, “get all the pieces together.” He noted that an internal review of the officers’ actions found they had done nothing wrong. Kinebrew also did not reveal whether body cam footage had caught the pursuit or Henry’s death.

The police spokesman called on witnesses “that have a different account than what we put out” to come forward. Philadelphia Police did not immediately respond to The North Star’s requests for more information or questions regarding allegations from the two eyewitnesses. On August 1, nearly 50 protesters blocked Broad Street at Olney Avenue urging answers from police. Deja Williams, 20, who is pregnant with Henry’s child, cried as she demanded “Justice for BJ.” Others, like Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif called on police to remove the officer off the streets until an investigation is completed. Henry’s mother,Monica Howard, addressed protesters and called on authorities to reveal the names of the officers involved and to release evidence on how her son died. “Maybe he didn’t mean to do it,” Howard said. “Maybe it was just a quick reaction. But at the end of the day, he needs to man up.” Henry, who had a history of drug-related arrests, was described by his mother as a “good person” who was trying to find his own way. The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to release a cause of death.

TASERS, or “electrical control devices,” are increasingly being used by law enforcement as a “less lethal” weapon to subdue suspects without the use of firearms or physical contact. The battery-powered, handheld device delivers 19 short pulses per second over 5 seconds, according to ABC News. The device has two modes: one called a pulse mode, which causes neuromuscular incapacitation, and drive-stun, which uses pain to make a suspect comply.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.