Tragic Death of Deborah Danner Followed by Tragic Exoneration of the Officer Who Killed Her

NYAPRS Note: The tragedy of Deborah Danner’s tragic death has been followed by another tragedy, yesterday’s court ruling that exonerated the NYC police officer who killed her, on the grounds that police training guidelines were insufficient clear yet despite that “the only other officer with a clear view, Camilo Rosario, said the bullets hit Ms. Danner before she swung the bat.” 
The Police Department left unanswered the question of whether Sergeant Barry would be welcomed back into the force or disciplined. In a statement, Mr. O’Neill said the Police Department would now proceed with its own “disciplinary review of the tactical and supervisory decisions leading to the discharge of a firearm in this case.”
Family and Black Lives Matters representatives assailed the verdict; see 
Look for information about a community vigil organized by representatives from Community Access and NYAPRS. 
For more information about Ms. Danner’s murder, see

NYPD Sergeant Acquitted In Deborah Danner's Death

NY Daily News  February 16, 2018

The acquittal of a veteran NYPD sergeant in the fatal shooting of a schizophrenic Bronx woman came Thursday in a deadly quiet courtroom — and then the shouting started.

City police unions praised the verdict before they blasted Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill after a Bronx bench trial ended with Sgt. Hugh Barry’s exoneration on all charges.

The sergeant sat stoically as Supreme Court Judge Robert Neary announced his decision around 9:40 a.m. in the dramatic finish to Barry’s trial for killing Deborah Danner, 66, inside her Bronx apartment.

Barry, 31, was charged with murder after firing two bullets into the mentally ill woman’s chest during a quickly escalating showdown that lasted just seconds.

The victim’s sister Jennifer Danner raised her eyebrows slightly as the officer was cleared in the killing. Barry testified that his life was in danger when Danner swung a 32-inch baseball bat at his head….

The victim’s family and friends…questioned how Barry was found guilty of no crime in the killing of a senior citizen.

Danner’s cousin Wallace Cooke Jr., a former NYPD officer, expressed his disgust after hearing the decision in a trial that lasted just over two weeks.

“Police departments allow this to happen,” he said. “To have this going on today is unacceptable.”

And the victim’s friend Chris Berry, after attending the trial daily, expected the verdict handed down by Neary.

“It’s not a surprise at all," she said. “It’s virtually impossible to convict a police officer. It’s heartbreaking...I’m really sorry that (Deborah) met that untimely, tragic death.”

Both de Blasio and O’Neill condemned Barry’s handling of the case in short order, and the DA’s office pressed for a murder indictment in the case.

Barry became the first NYPD member to face a top homicide count for an on-duty shooting since 1999, when four cops were charged in the killing of unarmed Amadou Diallo as he reached for his wallet.

All, like Barry, were acquitted at trial.

Police Sergeant Acquitted in Killing of Mentally Ill Woman


By  New York Times February 16, 2018

A New York City police sergeant was acquitted Thursday of murder in the fatal 2016 shooting of a bat-wielding, mentally ill 66-year-old woman in the bedroom of her Bronx apartment.

The death of the woman, Deborah Danner, became a flash point in the national, racially charged debate over whether police officers are too quick to shoot people and whether they are adequately trained and sufficiently conscientious in their dealings with people suffering from severe mental illness.

The sergeant, Hugh Barry, 32, had also been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide and chose to have his case decided by a judge instead of a jury; he was acquitted on all counts by Justice Robert A. Neary of State Supreme Court.

Because the sergeant claimed self-defense, Justice Neary said that the prosecution needed to prove that he was “not justified in the use of deadly physical force.”

“The prosecution’s evidence has failed to meet that burden of proof,” he said.

Sergeant Barry’s trial focused on the Police Department’s protocols for dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, or “E.D.P.’s.” Prosecutors argued that Sergeant Barry escalated the encounter by not proceeding as cautiously as departmental guidelines and his training demanded.

Some critics of the police said that Ms. Danner, a black woman who was shot by a white sergeant, was another casualty of a criminal justice system that values white lives over black ones.

But the sergeant’s lawyer, Andrew C. Quinn, argued that the department’s training set few hard-and-fast rules, often leaving decision-making to field supervisors, such as Sergeant Barry, a nine-year veteran.

Sergeant Barry remained suspended from the force with pay Thursday morning. Union leaders called for his immediate reinstatement. They characterized his conduct as not only legal, but entirely reasonable. “I think any sergeant, or officer, put in the same situation would react the same way,” said Ed Mullins, the president of the sergeants’ union.

Sergeant Barry shot Ms. Danner at about 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2016, in the bedroom of her seventh-floor apartment at 630 Pugsley Avenue. From the start, he maintained he had acted in self-defense. He said Ms. Danner refused his orders to drop a baseball bat and began to swing it at him.

The police had been called by a building security guard because Ms. Danner, a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of hospitalizations, had been ranting in a hallway and tearing posters off the wall. It was the third such call in two years. The previous two times the police had to break down her door to extricate her.

The shooting drew swift condemnations from Mayor Bill de Blasio and James P. O’Neill, the police commissioner, who said Sergeant Barry had failed to follow protocols, though neither said he had committed a crime.

On Thursday, the Police Department left unanswered the question of whether Sergeant Barry would be welcomed back into the force or disciplined. In a statement, Mr. O’Neill said the Police Department would now proceed with its own “disciplinary review of the tactical and supervisory decisions leading to the discharge of a firearm in this case.”

The Bronx district attorney, Darcel Clark, expressed disappointment with the verdict, adding in a statement that Ms. Danner’s death “illustrates the larger issue of how we need changes in the way we address people with mental health issues.”

For many New Yorkers, the case echoed the 1984 shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs, another mentally ill woman killed by the police in her Bronx apartment.
Ms. Danner, a former information-technology worker who lived alone, was well aware of Ms. Bumpurs’s fate. She cited it in a 2012 essay about her struggles with schizophrenia. “They used deadly force to subdue her because they were not trained sufficiently in how to engage the mentally ill in crisis,” she wrote. “This was not an isolated incident.”

Since the Bumpurs killing, officers have been trained to isolate and contain emotionally disturbed people, taking time and continuing to talk to them to persuade them to comply.

But the trial underscored the distinction between questionable tactics and criminal conduct that has made convictions of police officers rare even in killings where they deviate from protocol.

At the three-week trial, prosecutors argued that Sergeant Barry had rushed to subdue Ms. Danner, forcing the fatal confrontation. They faulted him for not learning details of two recent encounters Ms. Danner had had with the police, despite riding the elevator to Ms. Danner’s floor with her sister. And once he entered the apartment, prosecutors said, he could have called for help from a police unit specializing in dealing with the mentally ill.

But Mr. Quinn, the sergeant’s lawyer, argued that it was far from clear what Sergeant Barry should have done. If he had shut the bedroom door to isolate Ms. Danner, she might have stabbed herself with the scissors — in which case he might have been blamed for not intervening more resolutely, Mr. Quinn said.

Sergeant Barry, who testified in his own defense, said that when he arrived and learned from another officer that Ms. Danner was in her bedroom with scissors and refused to come out, he started talking to her, coaxing her to speak to emergency medical technicians.

After a few minutes, he said, she slammed the scissors down on a nightstand and came just outside her bedroom door.

Sergeant Barry said he figured Ms. Danner would not come any farther. He decided to grab her before she could return to the bedroom and grab the scissors again. He nodded to the other officers and rushed her.

But Ms. Danner retreated to the bedroom, jumped on the bed, and pulled a baseball bat from the bedclothes. Sergeant Barry ordered her to drop it. She stood up in a batter’s stance and moved her foot toward him to start a swing. He fired twice into her torso.

“I just see the bat swinging and that’s when I fired,” he testified.

He said he could not back up because his colleagues were crowded close behind him.

The only other officer with a clear view, Camilo Rosario, said the bullets hit Ms. Danner before she swung the bat, though he added that he believed she was about to swing.

Sergeant Barry’s account differed in many small but significant ways from those of some of the five other officers and two medics who were present. Officer Rosario, for instance, recalled that it was he who persuaded Ms. Danner to put down her scissors and come to the bedroom door.

Throughout the trial, members of the Sergeants Benevolent Association union sat in the front row in a show of support. Several said they thought the prosecution was politically motivated.

Members of the Episcopal churches Ms. Danner attended, her sister, and Black Lives Matter activists also filled the benches. As Justice Neary delivered his verdict, they sat with their hands at their mouths and closed their eyes.

The judge offered no detailed explanation.

Some of Ms. Danner’s supporters criticized the verdict. “Racism is still alive and kicking and anyone who tells you different is lying,” said Wallace Cooke Jr., a former city police officer whose cousin is Ms. Danner’s mother. Hawk Newsome, a Black Lives Matter activist, said the verdict felt “like somebody just ripped my heart out.”

Sergeant Barry’s supporters were jubilant. Officers hugged and clasped hands. Some wiped away tears.

Another Black Lives Matter activist, Joshua Lopez, 39, called after the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, “What if that was your mother?”

Matthew Heyd, a priest at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Manhattan, recalled Ms. Danner as “always in church,” and a frequent participant in knitting circles and discussion groups. “She always asked the tough questions,” he said.

In her own essay, Ms. Danner described schizophrenia as “a curse” that led to “a complete loss of control.”

Her illness, she wrote, had cost her jobs and family ties. She described roaming through the streets with a knife in search of a public place to kill herself. When she was well, she wrote, she was constantly examining herself for signs of a relapse.

“Generally speaking, those who don’t suffer believe the worst of those of us who do,” she wrote. “We’re asked to accept less than our natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

Cop Who Killed Deborah Danner Acquitted: #SayHerName Must Get The #MeToo Treatment

No justice, no peace.

Deborah Danner‘s family received a devastating blow on Thursday when the New York police sergeant who killed the 66-year-old mentally ill Black woman in October 2016 was cleared of all charges. Bronx Supreme Court Judge Robert Neary acquitted Sgt. Hugh Barry in the police brutality case that had drawn support from many activists, including the #SayHerName movement.

Barry was charged with second-degree murder, two counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide by prosecutors who decried his actions as “reckless,” the New York Daily News reported. A burden of proof was not reached due to lacking evidence from prosecutors, Neary said at Barry’s bench trial. The judge’s verdict is unsurprising, to say the least, sending the message that there is a great distance between crime and punishment when it comes to those who take Black lives.

Danner was fatally shot twice after a seconds-long standoff with Barry in the bedroom of her apartment in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx on Oct. 18, 2016. After responding to a 911 call about Danner tearing down fliers, they entered her apartment. Danner, a paranoid schizophrenic who was described as visibly “agitated,” ran to her bedroom in fear and grabbed a pair of scissors, police said. As the encounter escalated into a standoff, police failed to follow proper protocols in dealing with someone with emotional issues, assistant district attorney Wanda Perez-Maldonado argued during Wednesday’s summations.

“[As a member of the NYPD,] your goal is to protect life and for everybody to be safe,” Perez-Maldonado said. “He failed to fulfill his duties as a patrol supervisor, failed to use make use of all the resources available. He created the situation that led to her death. He failed Ms. Danner.”

Within five minutes of arriving at Danner’s home, Barry fired two deadly bullets into the senior citizen and caused her death. It was a killing that New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said was “unnecessary” almost immediately after Danner’s shooting, DNAinfo New York reported.

“She did not present a threat to other people because she was in a contained space,” DeBlasio said at the time.

Danner’s case caught the attention of many activists for spotlighting Black deaths related to mental health. And Danner’s name became a part of #SayHerName, a movement raising awareness about Black female victims of police brutality and anti-Black violence. For a cause that began in 2015 and has been championed by activists, celebrities and academics including its founder Kimberlé Crenshaw, it has not reached the level of recognition of the #MeToo movement. 

The #MeToo movement, initially begun by Tarana Burke, who is Black, has crossed cultural divides. However, #SayHerName, which fights to bring attention to Black women who are victims of police violence, has mainly found support among Black women.

But what if #SayHerName was supported by women of all races?  What if #SayHerName connected congresswomen and Hollywood women to Black women like Danner?

The #SayHerName movement can reach more people, gain more strength —and grow—as #MeToo has since it began 10 years ago.