Mayor, NYPD Chief Condemn Deadly Police Shooting of Mentally Ill Bronx Woman

The NYPD sergeant and eight-year department veteran who shot Deborah Danner was placed on modified duty

What to Know

  • Deborah Danner, 66, was shot and killed by a uniformed sergeant in her Bronx apartment Tuesday evening, police say
  • The NYPD had been responding to a 911 call complaining about Danner, who was described as emotionally disturbed
  • Police are conducting an investigation into the incident, including why a stun gun wasn't deployed

The NYPD sergeant who shot and killed an emotionally disturbed 66-year-old woman at her apartment in the Bronx Tuesday after she charged him with a bat has been placed on modified duty as top city officials, including the mayor and the head of the police department, condemn the gunfire.

Police Commissioner James O'Neill said after a breakfast in the city Wednesday that it appeared some NYPD protocol as it relates to emotionally disturbed individuals was not followed in the case of Deborah Danner, who was shot twice after police responded to her apartment building. 

"What is clear in this one instance, we failed. I want to know why it happened," O'Neill said. "We do have policies and procedures for handling emotionally disturbed people and it looks like some of those procedures weren't followed." 

Mayor de Blasio said there had been past 911 reports regarding Danner, who had schizophrenia. Danner's sister, Jennifer, had been there many of those times to help authorities take Deborah to the hospital. She was there Tuesday, expecting police to help escort her sister out safely as they had in the past. 

"She said she'd seen it done the right way and expected it to be done that way this time as well," de Blasio said. "You can only imagine the pain she feels having had to stand there and hear the shots fired and the recognition coming over her that she had lost her sister."

Both de Blasio and O'Neill pledged a thorough investigation. Officials will be looking into why the sergeant did not deploy his stun gun, for example. 

Dozens of people called for justice for Danner in a march Wednesday night through the streets of Castle Hill. 

"There's no justification for killing a 66-year-old mentally ill woman," one protester said.

"We're hurt, we're neighbors," another said. 

De Blasio said the sergeant who shot Danner, an eight-year department veteran identified by the police union as Hugh Barry, was among the thousands of cops who received proper training as it relates to the mentally ill. 

"Something went horribly wrong here," the mayor said. "It's quite clear our officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation and it's very hard for any of us to see that that standard was met here."

"Deborah Danner should be alive right now, period," de Blasio added. "If the protocols had been followed, she would be alive. It's as simple as that." 

The state attorney general's office said on Wednesday that it was reviewing the shooting to determine if it fell under a 2015 executive order assigning Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as the case's special prosecutor.

Officers were called to Danner's seventh-floor apartment on Pugsley Avenue in Castle Hill after a neighbor called 911 to report a disturbance. Barry encountered Danner in her bedroom; she was naked and armed with scissors, officials said. He persuaded her to put down the scissors but as he was coaxing her out of the room, she picked up the baseball bat and charged him. 

That's when Barry fired two shots from his service gun, officials said. Danner was struck twice in the torso. She was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Danner's cousin, retired NYPD officer Wallace Cooke Jr., said that the officers responding to the call should have taken more care with the woman. 

"They have been here numerous, numerous times over the years," she said. "Debbie was sick since she was in college."

Cooke added, "they have to do a better job of handling mental illness."

Ed Mullins, president of the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association, said Barry was patient in trying to deescalate the situation. He said Barry was trying to convince Danner to leave the bedroom in a peaceful manner when she grabbed the bat, ignored his demands to drop it, and aimed the weapon at his head.

"Fearing for his own life, as well as the lives of others, Sgt. Barry fired two shots from his service weapon and mortally wounded Ms. Danner," Mullins said in a statement. "He immediately ordered medical treatment for her, unfortunately to no avail. Sgt. Hugh Barry, an eight-year department veteran with an exemplary record, took immediate charge of the situation. As a frontline supervisor, it is his responsibility to do so."

Mullins said "police work is not an exact science" and Barry had to make a split second decision. De Blasio -- and others -- say he made the wrong call. The mayor says NYPD training calls for isolation and containment of mentally ill patients; Barry should have held the woman at bay, protecting her, himself and the other officers at the scene, until members of the Emergency Services Unit arrived, he says.

Barry has been the subject of two lawsuits in 2010 and 2011 alleging brutality, according to court records. The first was settled for $25,000 and the second for $10,000.

Democratic State Sen. Ruben Diaz said the shooting was indefensible.

"To me, it is very difficult to understand how a woman who is [66] years old and has emotional problems should have to die like this, especially if there are four or five police officers in the room with her," he said in a statement. "This elderly woman was known to the police department, yet the officer involved in this shooting failed to use discretion to either talk her down from her episode or, barring that, to use his stun gun."

Diaz says officers need to better trained in dealing with mentally ill people and that if they must shoot, to shoot in the leg. 

De Blasio acknowledged the need for better training Wednesday. He also said the "tragic" case underscores the importance of addressing mental health issues as early as possible and putting more efficient government systems in place to provide consistent support to decades-long sufferers like Danner.

"We're dealing with human beings. Human beings sometimes make mistakes. Our job is to minimize those mistakes as much as possible," de Blasio said.

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