NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Opening statements were delivered Tuesday in the trial of an NYPD sergeant charged with murder in the 2016 fatal shooting of an emotionally disturbed Bronx woman.
Barry is charged with murder, first-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the death of Danner, 66.
There are a lot of eyes on the case. When Danner was shot and killed, a debate was sparked over how well officers are trained to deal like with emotionally disturbed people.
That was the question at the forefront Tuesday as this trial got started.
A very stoic Sgt. Barry, 32, sat aside his attorney in court. Attorney Andrew Quinn was anything but stoic himself.
“A 223-pound person swings a bat at your head — it’s going to crush your skull,” Quinn said.
Quinn claims Barry acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Danner, who suffered from schizophrenia.
Four officers and two EMT’s first responded to a 911 call of an emotionally disturbed person screaming in the hallway of her Bronx apartment in October 2016. After repeated attempts to get Danner to the hospital, she was uncooperative and refused medical attention.
Shortly after, Barry and another officer arrived to the Castle Hill apartment building. They happened to take the elevator with Danner’s older sister, Jennifer, who was her legal guardian.
When called to the witness stand, Jennifer Danner told the judge she asked the officers to please not break the door down. She said she had to pay for repairs twice in the past, when police couldn’t get her sister to let them in.
“Sergeant Barry did not ask a single question of Jennifer Danner — didn’t ask about Deborah’s history; didn’t ask whether Jennifer could help,” said Assistant District Attorney Newton Mendys.
Once at the apartment, Barry was able to get the naked Deborah Danner to put down a pair of scissors with which she was armed. She then picked up a baseball bat and refused to put it down.
“Hugh Barry had eight tenths of a second to make a decision — let the bat strike him in the head and suffer whatever consequences may come, or the possibility – the very real possibility of death,” defense attorney Quinn said.
Barry fired two shots in self-defense, killing Danner, said Quinn. Danner once wrote a letter saying she feared her mental illness would lead to her death at the hands of police, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
“Sergeant Barry’s presence on scene was supposed to provide calm, experience, and knowledge,” Mendys said.
It is a case that both Mayor Bill de Blasio and police Commissioner James O’Neill have expressed major concern over.
“It should never have happened,” de Blasio said after the incident. “The NYPD’s job is to protect life.”
O’Neill said at the time, “We failed.”
But there was a showing of support for Barry in court. Fellow officers and union representatives flocked in, some standing outside wearing hats with the hashtag #WeAreBarry, Diamond reported.
“We are happy we are finally getting our day in court and the truth will come out,” said Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins.
Mullins argued that Barry was in danger and took the action he had to take.
“Ms. Danner had a well-chronicled history of violence and mental illness,” Mullins said. “Sgt. Barry took immediate charge of the situation by convincing Ms. Danner to put down a pair of scissors that she was gripping tightly in her hands. However, rather than leave the apartment, Ms. Danner ran back into the bedroom and grabbed a baseball bat.”
The SBA said Danner “refused repeated orders to drop the bat and swung it directly at Sgt. Barry’s head.” That’s when they say Barry opened fire, shooting her twice.
Friends from Deborah Danner’s church groups also spoke out in hopes that police receive additional training in these cases.
“People like her who are living with mental illness are presenting a new challenge to the city and we believe we can honor and protect them,” said Winnie Varghese of Trinity Wall Street Church.
Danner’s family has previously spoken out.
“This young man killed her, he should be in jail,” Danner’s cousin, Wallace Cooke, Jr., said in May of 2017. “All he had to do was close the damn door and walk away but he wanted to show his manhood using his pistol on her.”
Barry has pleaded not guilty. He was released on $100,000 bail and was suspended without pay from the NYPD.
The trial continues Thursday at 9:30 a.m. It is a bench trial, meaning judge will decide the outcome rather than a jury.