An NYPD sergeant committed murder when he shot a mentally ill woman last October inside her Bronx home, prosecutors charged Wednesday.
The indictment of Sgt. Hugh Barry marked the first time since 1999 that a city cop faces a top homicide count.
In leveling the severe charge — rather than just manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, as has been the case in other high-profile NYPD shootings — a Bronx grand jury rejected Barry’s testimony aimed at showing he had been justified in firing at 66-year-old Deborah Danner.
The eight-year veteran, who is white, stood silently as his lawyer entered a plea of not guilty to second-degree murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the shooting of the black victim. He later posted $ 100,000 bond and departed without comment — bolting through an underground garage to a waiting car after the hearing.
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“Debbie had no reason to die, and the cop had no reason to shoot her,” said Wallace Cooke, 74, an NYPD retiree and Danner’s cousin.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark had asked the state to impanel a special grand jury. At the time, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has the authority to probe police shootings of unarmed people, declined after concluding that preliminary evidence showed Danner was armed at the time.
Bronx prosecutors said Barry had failed to get critical background information about Danner’s mental health and that he had disregarded his NYPD training “in dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, by rushing into Ms. Danner’s apartment.”
Barry becomes the first NYPD officer charged with murder in an on-duty shooting since four officers fired 41 shots at unarmed West African immigrant Amadou Diallo in 1999.
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The four officers were later acquitted of the killing by an Albany jury, following a change of venue. Diallo died reaching for his wallet when the shooting started.
As in the Diallo case, Danner’s family blamed the incident on race. Cooke pointed the finger at Barry for mishandling the situation after a neighbor had called police to report that Danner was screaming inside her home on Oct. 18. When cops arrived, Danner was alone in a rear bedroom clutching a pair of scissors.
Barry convinced Danner to put down the scissors. But he opened fire once she grabbed a baseball bat and allegedly rushed at him. It wasn’t long until he was publicly denounced by NYPD top cop James O’Neill and Mayor de Blasio.
“The loss of Deborah Danner was a tragedy felt deeply by our city,” the mayor said Wednesday. “Now that the grand jury has made its decision, we have full faith in the district attorney to lead a fair and thorough prosecution.”
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Cooke told the Daily News he agreed the 911 call response for Danner was botched. He also suggested his cousin would still be alive if she were white.
“He intended to kill her — no doubt,” Cooke said. “When you shoot somebody twice in her own bedroom? All he had to do was close the damn door and walk out.”
Barry, 31, stood silently with his uncuffed hands clasped behind his back during the hearing. He stared straight ahead, offering no hint of his thoughts after a tumultuous stretch that followed the first time he fired his weapon on the job.
Barry had testified last week before the Bronx grand jury that began considering the evidence in December and returned the indictment Tuesday.
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Defense attorney Andrew Quinn and Sergeants Benevolent Association President Edward Mullins both sprang to Barry’s defense.
“He is no doubt a political pawn,” said Mullins. “He was made a political pawn in the light of this incident by Commissioner O’Neill. “There’s political agendas on the table here. Disgraceful.”
Barry has been placed on suspended duty pending the results of his criminal case. If convicted, he faces 25 years to life in prison.
O’Neill said after the shooting that Barry had failed to follow proper procedure involving emotionally disturbed people. Cops are instructed to defuse situations until specially trained Emergency Service Unit officers reach the scene. Barry also kept his department-issued stun gun holstered, a tactical decision that came under heavy criticism.
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Barry may have been charged with murder — rather than something else — as a result of how the DA decided to apply the law. Second-degree murder, according to state law, includes killing someone “under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life.”
By comparison, rookie cop Peter Liang was convicted of manslaughter in February 2016 — a charge later reduced to criminally negligent homicide — in the shooting of 28-year-old Akai Gurley.
Liang had his gun drawn in the stairwell of the Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn, when he discharged his weapon and the bullet ricocheted off the wall and struck Gurley.
Liang, who said he had not intended to harm the African-American man, was sentenced to five years’ probation and 800 hours of community service.
With Kerry Burke, Thomas Tracy, Laura Dimon
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