NEW YORK (AP) — Opening statements began on Tuesday in the trial of a police sergeant charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a 66-year-old emotionally disturbed woman.
Sgt. Hugh Barry has pleaded not guilty in the Oct. 18, 2016, death of Deborah Danner, who was brandishing a bat when he shot her. Barry had earlier persuaded Danner to put down a pair of scissors.
Danner had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and officers had been called to her Bronx home several times before.
Prosecutors said Danner’s death resulted from numerous failures by Barry, an eight-year veteran of the New York Police Department.
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“The evidence will prove that Sergeant Barry failed, he failed in his training … he failed to listen to Mrs. Danner … he failed to grasp the actions of a mentally ill woman,” Assistant District Attorney Newton Mendys said in opening statements.
The defense argued that Barry made a split-second decision to protect himself when Danner grabbed the bat.
“Deborah Danner died because she was swinging a lethal weapon, a bat, at Sergeant Barry’s head,” defense attorney Andrew Quinn said. “He was trying to help this woman. He was trying to follow the mandates of the NYPD.”
The shooting of Danner, who was black, by Barry, who is white, came during a time of heightened concern in minority communities about the deaths of black people at the hands of police. It sparked protests and evoked memories of the 1984 police killing of another black Bronx woman, Eleanor Bumpurs, who was shot after waving a knife at officers while being evicted from her apartment.
Officials and police reform advocates condemned Danner’s killing, pointing out that Barry had a stun gun but did not use it. At the time, police Commissioner James O’Neill said his department failed by not using means other than deadly force.
Sgt. Ed Mullins, the head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, called the murder charge “obscene.”
Barry “did not go to work intending to kill anyone,” Mullins said.