An NYPD sergeant could face discipline in the fatal shooting of Deborah Danner, five years after the Bronx woman’s death helped ignite a citywide reassessment of the role of police in responding to mental health calls.
Sergeant Hugh Barry is scheduled to begin a weeks-long department trial on Tuesday. He will be brought up on administrative charges of failure to supervise and poor tactical judgement in the high-profile killing.
The charges typically amount to a loss of vacation days, but could carry a higher penalty, depending on Commissioner Dermot Shea’s final decision. Barry’s criminal case ended with an acquittal three years ago.
Danner, a 66-year-old Black woman with a documented history of schizophrenia, was in the throes of a mental health crisis when, on October 19th, 2016, Barry arrived at her Castle Hill apartment, alongside three cops, two EMTs, and Danner’s sister.
As the group attempted to coax the woman out of her apartment, she allegedly brandished a baseball bat. Barry, a white sergeant who was 32 years old at the time, fired two shots at the woman’s torso, killing her. He later said that he feared for his own life.
Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and then-Police Commissioner James O’Neill condemned the officer’s actions. "What is clear is, in this one instance, we failed,” de Blasio said.
The confrontation sparked protests and an increase in crisis intervention training among high-ranking police officers, after it was reported that Barry had not received the de-escalation course. The Sergeant Benevolent Association defended Barry's actions, while accusing the mayor of mounting a “political witch hunt” against him.
(Neither the SBA nor Andrew Quinn, an attorney for Barry, responded to questions. Through a secretary, Quinn said that the trial had been postponed from its initial Monday start-date due to unspecified "COVID issues.")
Demands for a new approach to responding to mental health calls intensified again last summer, in the wake of widespread racial justice protests, as well as the police killing of Daniel Prude in Rochester. Earlier this year de Blasio launched a pilot program that would send crisis response experts, rather than cops, to some mental health 911 calls.
While advocates have praised the pilot, they-say that five year interval between Danner’s death and Barry’s department trial underscores the city’s ongoing failure to mete out discipline in a timely manner.
“There’s literally no excuse for why this dragged on,” Joo-Hyun Kang, the director of Communities United for Police Reform, said in an interview on Monday. “When the NYPD wants to act quickly, they do. These are political decisions made at the highest level of government, geared toward protecting officers who have killed or brutalized.”
In recent cases, including the trial of Daniel Pantaleo, the city has defended the NYPD’s slow-moving disciplinary process by claiming it must wait until the culmination of a criminal trial.
Barry was acquitted by a State Supreme Court Judge on second-degree murder charges in early 2018. At the time, Commissioner O’Neill said the NYPD would launch its own “disciplinary review of the tactical and supervisory decisions leading to the discharge of a firearm in this case.”
The same year, the city agreed to pay out $2 million to Danner’s family.
Barry was allowed to return to the force as a sergeant following his acquittal. He took home a salary of $152,000 in 2020.