NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A judge has acquitted NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry of all charges in the fatal shooting of a mentally ill Bronx woman in 2016.
Barry was charged with murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges in the October 2016 death of 66-year-old Deborah Danner, who suffered from schizophrenia.
Barry was one of the officers who responded to Danner’s home when neighbors called while she was having an episode.
He was able to convince Danner to drop a pair of scissors, but she later went to her bedroom, grabbing a baseball bat.
During the trial, Barry testified he opened fire to stop Danner from hitting him in the head with the bat.
“I just see the bat swinging and that’s when I fired,” he told the judge on Tuesday. “I’m looking at this bat that can crack me in the head and kill me.”
Barry, who was carrying both a Taser gun and his service weapon, fired his gun twice, killing her.
On the stand, Barry said a Taser was not an appropriate defense against a swinging bat.
In closing arguments, Barry’s lawyer said prosecutors are trying to criminalize a difficult police judgment call.
Prosecutors say Barry ignored his training and failed to isolate and contain Danner, and failed to confer with first responders before confronting Danner in her bedroom.
“If Hugh Barry and those officers walked away and Deborah Danner hurt herself with those scissors the Danner family would be just as sad and they’d still be pointing the finger of blame at the NYPD for not taking action,” defense attorney Andrew Quinn said.
Barry slipped out a side exit after the verdict and did not address reporters. There was no visible emotion from Barry as the judge read the verdict, but his attorney said the sergeant is “very relieved.”
“He truly was put in an impossible position. He doesn’t forget by any means that Miss Danner lost her life,” Quinn said.
But for Danner’s family, it was the outcome they feared.
“It’s a travesty,” said family attorney Ricardo Aguirre. “You’d think they’d have more training for their police officer and supervisors to understand how to deal with a violent emotionally disturbed person.”
“To take Deborah’s life was a tragedy preventable. This cop like many across this United States, allow this to happen,” said Danner’s cousin Wallace Cooke, a retired NYPD officer. “To have this going on today is unacceptable.”
“Time after time again they kill us and they celebrate our murders,” said Hawk Newsome, the president of Black Lives MatterNew York.
Barry is a 9-year veteran of the NYPD.
“The judge looked at the preponderance of all the evidence and concluded that the actions of the Sergeant were appropriate and not criminal,” said Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “There is no victory here today, only relief that justice has been served and a good man who was doing a difficult and dangerous job has been exonerated.”
After Danner’s death, both the mayor and police commissioner said the city failed Danner.
“He was wronged all along, and it’s up now to the commissioner to make it right. He owes him an apology, the mayor owes him an apology and so does the district attorney,” Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins said.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said she’s disappointment but accepts the judge’s decision.
“I believe the death of Deborah Danner illustrates the larger issue of how we need changes in the way we address people with mental health issues,” Clark said in a statement. “There must be serious reforms to improve access to treatment so the situation does not rise to a crisis. Mental health professionals should be part of the response to emotionally disturbed persons. I hope that measures will be taken to prevent another tragedy such as this.”
Barry’s union is asking that he be immediately reinstated to his position.
In a message sent to all NYPD officers, Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill noted the department’s disciplinary review of incident will continue.
“Today’s court decision in the Bronx determined that Sgt. Hugh Barry had no criminal culpability,” said O’Neill. “It does not, however, make the loss of Deborah Danner’s life any less tragic.”