NEW YORK – A police sergeant was charged with murder Wednesday in the shooting of a 66-year-old mentally ill woman with a baseball bat, a death of the mayor called tragic and unacceptable.
Sgt. Hugh Barry pleaded not guilty at an arraignment Wednesday to charges which also included manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in Deborah Danner October in the death. He was released on bail.
The police respond to a 911 call about an emotionally disturbed person like Barry, who has been with the New York Police Department for eight years, encountered Danner in her Bronx apartment.
Danner had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Officers were called to her house a few times to take her to the hospital during psychiatric episodes, and had been able to get her away safely, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the time.
On Oct. 18, Barry convinced Danner to drop a pair of scissors she had taken, police said. But when she picked up a baseball bat and tried to strike him, he fired two shots at her torso, she said.
Assistant district Attorney Wanda Perez-Maldonado, said Barry had ignored his training on the correct procedures for the treatment of people with mental illness.
He had a stun gun, but not used.
Sgt. Ed Mullins, the head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said Barry “not to work planning to kill someone.” He called the murder charge “obscene.”
“Officers risk their lives in these situations. It is a split-second decision,” said Mullins. “I firmly believe in the coming weeks and months that see you Sgt. Barry acquitted of all charges.”
Barry, 31, who had never fired his weapon, is suspended from the force while the criminal case plays. He was suspended without pay for 30 days.
New York City police respond to thousands of calls about emotionally disturbed people per year. Officers and commanders, Barry, one of them, receive training on how to deal with mentally ill people, that includes instruction in techniques to “de-escalate” a situation, rather than resort to force.
Danner is the shooting led to protests and a rebuke of the mayor.
“Our officers need to use deadly force only when faced with a difficult situation. It is very difficult to see that the standard was met,” de Blasio said the day after the shooting. “Something went terribly wrong here.”
New York police Commissioner James O’neill, meanwhile, said at the time that the department failed by not using means other than lethal force.
District Attorney Darcel Clark said that they empaneled a special grand jury which for the past two months, the investigation of the case prior to the return of an indictment.
The officials and police reform advocates who have been convicted Danner is killing praised Barry’s arrest. Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton called it “a good step in a long walk in the direction of justice,” while Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said, it was the progress in “addressing an issue that has been long neglected, and that is how to deal with our mentally disabled residents in volatile situations.”
Danner’s death evoked memories of the 1984 police killing of another black Bronx woman, Eleanor Bumpurs, who was shot after waving a knife at officers while being evicted from her apartment.
Family members have said Danner was sick since her student days. She had done some computer-related work at one point and was a book-lover and artist, often sketching the people around her, a former lawyer of her said.
In a searing, eloquent 2012 essay about life with schizophrenia, they struggled with the death of mentally ill people, such as her at the hands of the police.
“We are all aware of the all too frequent news stories about the mentally ill who are against enforcement of the law instead of the mental health and the death,” she wrote in the essay, which she had given to her lawyer.
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.