A police sergeant was charged with murder on Wednesday for the October shooting of Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old woman with mental illness.
The sergeant, Hugh Barry, pleaded not guilty at Wednesday’s arraignment to charges that included second-degree murder, first- and second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Barry’s arrest came after months of investigation into the incident. He was released on bail.
Police were responding to an emergency call on Oct. 18 about a woman acting erratically when Barry arrived at Danner’s Bronx apartment. Barry convinced Danner to drop a pair of scissors she had been holding, but police say she then picked up a baseball bat and attempted to attack the officer before he shot her twice in the torso, killing her. Several other officers were at the scene, but only Barry was in the room with Danner at the time she was shot.
Barry had a stun gun, but he used his service pistol instead. It was reportedly the first time he fired his weapon on duty.
Danner was previously diagnosed with schizophrenia and police had been called to her home several times prior due to psychiatric episodes, according to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Sgt. Ed Mullins, called the murder charge “obscene,” adding that Barry “did not go to work intending to kill anyone.”
“Officers risk their lives going into these situations,” Mullins said. “It’s a split-second decision. I firmly believe in the weeks and months ahead that you will see Sgt. Barry acquitted of all charges.”
But Wanda Perez-Maldonado, assistant district attorney for the Bronx, said Barry disregarded his training regarding how to properly handle people with mental illness. Mayor de Blasio and New York’s police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, made similar statements regarding failure to follow protocol.
“Our officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation,” de Blasio said the day after the shooting. “It’s very hard to see that standard was met. Something went horribly wrong here.”
Bronx D.A., Darcel D. Clark, requested a special grand jury to hear evidence in the case, but the state attorney general declined, stating that preliminary evidence confirmed that Danner was armed at the time of her death.
Within hours of the incident, Barry had been stripped of his badge and gun and placed on “modified duty,” or what amounts to a 30 day suspension without pay.
Severe legal repercussions for officers involved in on-duty shootings are somewhat rare, but Barry’s case is an exception, facing the full force of the law for his actions.
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