A Bronx State Supreme Court justice acquitted an NYPD sergeant of murder and other charges Thursday in the case of a mentally ill woman, Deborah Danner, whom the officer shot during a confrontation in her apartment.
Sgt. Hugh Barry, 32, showed no emotion to onlookers in the courtroom as Justice Robert A. Neary announced his verdict clearing him of one count of second-degree murder, two of manslaughter and one of criminally negligent homicide stemming from the Oct. 18, 2016, incident in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx.
Barry, a 9-year NYPD veteran, opted to have a nonjury trial with Neary deciding the verdict. In his brief statement read in a packed courtroom, Neary said prosecutors in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office had failed to meet their burden of proof in the case.
Barry, who testified at the trial, said he fired at Danner, 66, in self-defense as she was about to swing a bat at his head. Trial evidence showed that Danner was schizophrenic. Danner also wielded scissors during the confrontation with Barry.
The case caused a political firestorm after Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill indicated in statements that they thought Barry acted improperly. The case also spotlighted NYPD policies on the handling of emotionally disturbed people.
Barry quickly left the courtroom and didn’t comment. He is currently suspended with pay. Defense attorney Andrew Quinn told reporters he had been optimistic.
“We’ve always felt confident we would win, but you never know,” Quinn said.
Veteran defense attorney Stacey Richman, who wasn’t involved in the case, said Quinn’s decision to pursue a nonjury trial was a tactical decision that paid off, particularly considering the negative perception of police in the Bronx.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said in a statement that she was disappointed in the verdict but accepted Neary’s ruling.
“I believe the death of Deborah Danner illustrates the larger issue of how we need changes in the way we address people with mental health issues,” Clark wrote.
O’Neill said in a statement that cops had a difficult job but needed to be accountable for their actions. He said the department would be reviewing the tactics and decisions that led to the shooting in the case, an indication that Barry would be facing departmental charges.
Sergeants Benevolent Association president Ed Mullins applauded the verdict and expressed outrage over the actions of de Blasio, O’Neill and Clark in what he called a “malicious prosecution.”
The group Communities United for Police Reform said the verdict was “another injustice” that failed to hold police accountable.