A Bronx grand jury is set to hear evidence against Sgt. Hugh Barry, a white officer who fatally shot a mentally disturbed 66-year-old black woman who, the eight-year NYPD veteran says, attacked him in her apartment with a baseball bat.
At issue is whether Barry will testify in his defense. That is a tricky decision, one especially difficult before Bronx grand juries, which many in the NYPD consider notoriously anti-cop.
“The case is screaming for him to testify,” said a source familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He has to explain why he didn’t back off and contain the situation by closing the door behind him and isolating her until emergency service cops arrived. It was a [legitimate] shooting but bad tactics.”
Barry had first talked the woman, Deborah Danner, into dropping a knife she was holding and apparently thought he’d established a rapport with her, the source said. “The issue is when she picks up the bat, how close she was standing to him, whether she came towards him, whether she was holding the bat above his head.”
Barry’s lawyer, Andrew Quinn, did not return calls. A spokeswoman for Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark declined to comment.
Commissioner James O’Neill, only a few weeks into the job at the time of the October shooting, placed Barry on modified assignment before an internal investigation was completed. O’Neill said Barry, who shot Danner twice in the torso, had not followed procedures when dealing with mentally ill people because he did not first use his Taser, and that he failed to wait for an Emergency Service Unit to arrive.
“We failed,” O’Neill said at the time. “There was a person in crisis… We were called to that apartment to help someone… and we ended up killing her.”
A few hours later, Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled down, saying provocatively, “Deborah Danner should be alive now. Period.”
Ed Mullins, the head of the sergeants union, said O’Neill’s comments, and particularly the mayor’s, have poisoned the case against Barry — much as former Commissioner Ray Kelly had done in 2004 when he said Officer Richard Neri had acted outside NYPD guidelines when he shot unarmed 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury on the roof of his Brooklyn apartment building.
A grand jury chose not to indict Neri, concluding the shooting was accidental.