New York, NY – A New York Police Department (NYPD) sergeant who fatally shot a woman as she began to swing a baseball bat at his head in 2016 was acquitted on all charges on Thursday morning.
“I just see the bat swinging, and that’s when I fired,’’ NYPD Sergeant Hugh Barry testified on Tuesday, according to the New York Post. “I’m looking at this bat that can crack me in the head and kill me.”
He faced a maximum penalty of life in prison on charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide in relation to the October, 2016 death of 66-year-old Deborah Danner.
Sgt. Barry, 32, a nine-year veteran of the force, opted to have his case decided by a judge, rather than a jury, The New York Times reported.
During the hearing, Justice Robert A. Neary of State Supreme Court noted that prosecutors were required to prove that the sergeant was “not justified in the use of deadly physical force.” Neary determined that “the prosecution’s evidence has failed to meet that burden on proof.”
The altercation took place at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2016, after an apartment building security guard reported that Danner, who was a paranoid schizophrenic, was causing a disturbance by ranting and tearing posters off of the walls in a hallway.
When Sgt. Barry encountered Danner at the apartment, he found the naked woman in her bedroom, sitting “on her bed furiously snapping a pair of green-handled metal scissors,” court documents said, according to the New York Post.
He attempted to persuade Danner to put the scissors down, but she instead brandished them in the sergeant’s direction.
“I’m not f*****g coming out!” she told him.
Danner ultimately slammed the scissors down on a nightstand, and stepped just outside the door of her bedroom, Sgt. Barry testified, according to The New York Times.
The sergeant determined that Danner was unlikely to exit her room any further, so he attempted to grab her in order to prevent her from being able to retreat back into her bedroom, where the scissors were still located.
Danner was able to evade Sgt. Barry, who rushed after her as she reentered her bedroom.
The woman then grabbed a baseball bat she had hidden between the sheets of her bed. Sgt. Barry ordered her to drop the weapon, but she instead positioned herself into a batter’s stance, and began to swing the bat at him.
With five assisting officers standing closely behind him, the Sgt. Barry was unable to back away from the impending assault.
He fired two rounds at his assailant, hitting her twice in the torso. Danner was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Mayor Bill de Blasio blasted the sergeant after the fatal shooting.
"Deborah Danner should be alive right now, period," de Blasio said in October of 2016, according to WNBC. "Something went horribly wrong here."
“She did not present a threat to other people because she was in a contained space,” the mayor added, according to the New York Daily News.
Commissioner O’Neill said that officers did not adhere to some of the protocols related to police interactions with mental ill individuals during the altercation with Danner.
“We failed,” Commissioner O’Neill said, according to the New York Post.
During the trial, Sgt. Barry explained that he had to act swiftly and decisively in order to prevent Danner from rearming herself, and that he was not aware that the bat was also hidden in the room, The New York Times reported.
These circumstances prevented the sergeant from being able to follow the department’s guidelines for interactions with mentally ill individuals, which were created with the idealistic assumption that there would be ample time to react.
Danner had been hospitalized on at least 10 occasions prior to her attack on Sgt. Barry, WNBC reported.
In two instances, officers were forced to break down the woman’s door in order to forcibly transport her for emergency medical evaluations.
Sgt. Barry quickly exited the courthouse after the acquittal to attend a morning church service, his attorney, Andrew Quinn, told the New York Daily News.
“He’s been through a very difficult time,” Quinn said. “We’ve always felt confident we would win, but you never know until you see the evidence.”
After the hearing, Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA) leader Sergeant Ed Mullins slammed de Blasio, Commissioner O’Neill and District Attorney Darcel Clark for using the prosecution of Sgt. Barry as a political move.
“While I offer empathy and sympathy to the Danner family, I have nothing but outrage ... for the malicious prosecution that was conducted for the most nefarious of reasons,” Sgt. Mullins told the New York Daily News. “What I saw was the police commissioner play politics. I saw a mayor play politics and a district attorney play politics.”
Sgt. Mullins further demanded that Sgt. Barry, who has been suspended from duty since May of 2017, be immediately reinstated.
“He was wronged all along, and it’s up now to the commissioner to make it right,” Sgt. Mullins said. “He owes him an apology. The mayor owes him an apology. And so does the district attorney.”