NYPD Officer Charged With Murder for Killing Deborah Danner, an Elderly Black Woman in Mental Distress

By Kenrya Rankin Jun 01, 2017

On October 18, 2016, New York Police Department Sergeant Hugh Barry fatally shot Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old Black woman with a history of mental illness. Yesterday (May 31), Barry was charged with murder.

The New York Times reports that Barry was charged with second-degree murder, first- and second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. He was also suspended from the force without pay. The felony murder charge alone could net a sentence up to 25 years in prison.

The shooting raised questions about how law enforcement officers are trained to interact with people with mental illness. Barry and other officers responded to Danner’s Bronx apartment after receiving a 911 call from a neighbor saying that Danner was in crisis. As we reported in October:

The victim’s sister, Jennifer Danner, was there. She expected officers to help take her sibling—who had schizophrenia—to the hospital, as they had on several previous occasions. But Barry, who has been with the NYPD for eight years, reports that he shot the Black woman in the torso two times because she charged at him with a baseball bat and he feared for his life.

Barry, who is White, had a stun gun, but chose to shoot at the elderly Black woman. His actions prompted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to say that, “something went horribly wrong here. 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.”

It turns out that a grand jury agreed. But that jury almost didn’t happen. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman—who has the power to initiate investigations into police-involved killings of unarmed civilians—initially declined to impanel one, saying that it fell outside his jurisdiction. That conclusion suggested that Danner’s wielding of a bat qualified her as “armed.” Bronx district attorney Darcel Clark took over the case in December and immediately requested the grand jury. Barry was arraigned on the jury-recommended charges yesterday, and Judge Robert A. Neary set bail at $100,000.

Retired NYPD officer Wallace Cooke Jr.—a relative of Danner’s—told The New York Times that he is happy about the arrest. “It’s about time that they be held accountable for their action,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sergeants Benevolent Association president Edward Mullins posted on Facebook that his organization “will fight tirelessly, vigorously and relentlessly to clear [Barry’s] hard-earned and well-deserved reputation.”