New York City Police Sergeant Charged With Murder in Death of Mentally Ill Bronx Woman

Sgt. Hugh Barry was escorted into a Bronx courtroom on Wednesday, where he pleaded not guilty to murder charges. (Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times)

A New York City police sergeant who fatally shot a mentally ill woman in her Bronx apartment in October was charged on Wednesday with murder in the woman’s death.

The arrest of the sergeant, Hugh Barry, followed months of investigation into the encounter with the woman, Deborah Danner, 66. Her death echoed the fatal police shooting in 1984 of Eleanor Bumpurs, a woman with a history of mental illness.

Sergeant Barry, who had been on the police force eight years and was assigned to the 43rd Precinct, was charged with second-degree murder, first- and second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, and was suspended without pay.

Police officers rarely face criminal charges in deaths that occur when they are on duty, and murder charges are even more rare.

Ms. Danner was killed on Oct. 18 after Sergeant Barry and other officers responded to 911 calls of a woman acting erratically at an apartment building in the Castle Hill neighborhood.

Within hours of her death, the sergeant was stripped of his badge and gun and placed on modified duty, although the police, in their initial account, said that Ms. Danner had tried to swing a wooden bat at him.

Deborah Danner

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said Sergeant Barry had not followed police protocol for dealing with people with mental illness. Specifically, he did not use his stun gun to try to subdue Ms. Danner, and he did not wait for a specialized Emergency Service Unit to arrive.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sergeant Barry, 31, appeared in court in the Bronx, dressed in a suit. Standing before Judge Robert A. Neary, Sergeant Barry kept his eyes forward as his lawyer, Andrew C. Quinn, entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. Judge Neary set bail at $100,000, and Sergeant Barry was escorted from the courtroom.

After Ms. Danner’s death, the Bronx district attorney, Darcel D. Clark, asked the state to impanel a special grand jury to hear evidence in the case. But the state attorney general, who has the power to investigate police shootings of unarmed people, declined to pursue a formal inquiry, suggesting the preliminary evidence had confirmed that Ms. Danner was armed when she was killed.

Ms. Clark, a former judge and the wife of a city police detective, took over the investigation and sought a grand jury in December.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Al Baker