NYT: D.A. Asks For Grand Jury In Police Killing Of Deborah Danner

NYAPRS Note: The following comes from NYAPRS intern David Martino who writes that “while NYC began Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training last year, it has only reached 4,400 of the 36,000 rank and file officers, and did not include the officer who fatally shot Deborah Danner on October 18th. With the request to impanel a grand jury, it is clear that greater examination is needed in order to find justice in this case. Together, we remember Deborah Danner—a woman whose death sadly and tragically exemplifies the importance of education and proper training for crisis professionals, and a woman who made clear the imminent significance of acceptance, support and love for anyone in that struggle (see ‘On the Tragic Death of Deborah Danner at http://www.nyaprs.org/e-news-bulletins/2016/015288.cfm.

District Attorney Asks for Grand Jury in Police Killing of Deborah Danner
By Ashley Southall NY Times Dec. 5, 2016

In a sign of the legal and political stakes surrounding the death of a mentally ill woman killed by the police in October, the Bronx district attorney is asking the state to impanel a grand jury that would hear evidence solely from the fatal shooting.

The district attorney, Darcel D. Clark, said on Monday that she would ask for the appointment of what is known as a special grand jury in the death of the woman, Deborah Danner, 66, who was shot on Oct. 18 by a police sergeant responding to 911 calls about a woman acting erratically.

A special grand jury was used on Staten Island to hear evidence in the death of Eric Garner, who was killed in 2014 in an encounter with the police, and such panels typically entail more extensive presentation of evidence by prosecutors.

In the case of Mr. Garner, the grand jury declined to indict the officer implicated in the killing, Daniel Pantaleo. Since that decision, in December 2014, federal prosecutors have been conducting their own inquiry, which has been slowed by internal disputes.

In Ms. Danner’s case, the police said in their initial account that she had swung a bat at the sergeant, Hugh Barry, prompting him to open fire. But within hours, Sergeant Barry was stripped of his badge and gun and placed on modified duty.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, did not dispute the account that Ms. Danner was armed, but said Sergeant Barry had failed to follow police protocol for dealing with people with mental illnesses. Specifically, he did not use his Taser stun gun to try to subdue Ms. Danner, and he did not wait for a specialized police unit to arrive.

But the state attorney general, who has the power to investigate police shootings of people who were unarmed, declined to pursue a formal inquiry, which suggested that the preliminary evidence had confirmed that Ms. Danner was armed when she was killed.

The Bronx district attorney, Ms. Clark, took over the investigation, and on Monday, she said she was seeking a grand jury to keep her pledge to conduct a fair and thorough inquiry.

“I believe that presenting the evidence to a grand jury will best accomplish that goal,” Ms. Clark said. “It is important to determine exactly what happened in this tragic incident.”

Similarities between Ms. Danner’s killing and the death 32 years earlier of Eleanor Bumpurs renewed a debate over how officers respond to emotionally disturbed people.

Ms. Clark did not say when the special grand jury would be impaneled, but a court spokesman said it could happen within days once the request was approved.

Ed Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said in a statement that the request was expected.

“We trust that District Attorney Clark will present the evidence in a fair, reasoned and judicious manner,” he said.

Eugene O’Donnell, a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York police officer and prosecutor, said it would be especially difficult for a grand jury to bring charges against Sergeant Barry because Ms. Danner was said to be armed.

“That’s a very, very potent claim,” he said. “And the D.A. knows that.”

The outcome of the grand jury proceedings will inevitably bring heat for Ms. Clark, Mr. O’Donnell said.

“If they decide not to indict, the same questions might be asked in the Bronx as they were in Garner,” he said. “Did the D.A. present the evidence in a way that was determinative of the outcome? Did they seek a certain outcome?”