Authorities in New York were sharply critical yesterday of a police sergeant responding to a call about an "emotionally disturbed person" on Wednesday who officials said fatally shot a 66-year-old woman wielding a baseball bat.
Police said they were investigating the shooting, which occurred in the Bronx apartment of Deborah Danner, a woman who authorities said was known to officers after previous calls regarding her mental illness. In blunt public statements, officials said Sergeant Hugh Barry did not follow his training and said they were seeking to determine why he fired his gun rather than his Taser.
"The shooting of Deborah Danner is tragic and it is unacceptable," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "It should never have happened. It's as simple as that. It should never have happened." New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill said that "we failed" and he wanted to know why.
"Every life to me is precious," O'Neill said during a briefing. "I think that we've been in this business a very long time, we've established procedures and protocols for handling emotionally disturbed people. That's to keep everybody safe, that's to keep the cops safe, the community safe and the person that we're dealing with safe." O'Neill said that while the department has protocols governing such calls, "it looks like some of those procedures weren't followed".
Police in New York have responded to more than 128,000 calls regarding people suffering emotional disturbances, said de Blasio.
"Our officers, in the overwhelming majority of instances, handled those instances very well, with tremendous skill, with tremendous sensitivity. That's why this tragedy is so shocking. . . . Something went wrong here."
According to a narrative released by the police department, officers responded to a neighbour's emergency call and headed to Danner's seventh-floor apartment on Pugsley Avenue.
Danner was known to police after "several incidents"involving similar calls about her, Assistant Police Chief Larry Nikunen, commanding officer of Patrol Borough Bronx, said. De Blasio said police knew Danner "suffered from mental illness." When Barry went inside, Danner was holding scissors, Nikunen said. The sergeant talked with Danner and persuaded her to put the scissors down, but she then picked up a baseball bat and tried to hit Barry, prompting him to fire two shots at her torso, Nikunen said. Danner was taken to Jacobi Hospital and pronounced dead.
"The sergeant was armed with a Taser, it was not deployed, and the reason it was not deployed will be part of the investigation and review," Nikunen said.
O'Neill said that Barry had attended training in 2014 that focused on de-escalating situations. Barry has been placed on modified duty and stripped of his badge and gun, de Blasio said.