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Emotionally Disturbing Police Shootings: Murder or Self-Defense?

August 7, 2017

Papers filed in Bronx State Supreme Court last week by Sgt. Hugh Barry say Barry had no choice when he fatally shot an emotionally disturbed black woman after she swung at his head with a baseball bat in her small bedroom.

The papers — which are part of a motion to dismiss the murder charges against him — say that an unidentified expert called by the Bronx prosecutors told a grand jury: “at no time … was the use of a Taser an appropriate alternative to the use of a firearm.”

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialBarry was publicly criticized by Mayor de Blasio and stripped of his gun by Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill for violating protocol — failing to call the department’s specialized Emergency Service Unit and failing to use his Taser instead of firing his weapon at 66-year-old Deborah Danner last October.

His motion was filed the day after police officer Miguel Gonzalez shot and killed 32-year-old Dwayne Jeune, an emotionally disturbed black man in Brooklyn, who police say charged at him and three other responding officers with a carving knife. Police said the officers fired two Taser darts at Jeune that failed to stop him.

Last October, Gonzalez had shot and wounded another emotionally disturbed black man, 23-year-old Davonte Pressley, who police say charged him with a knife last October. Police have said both Gonzalez’s shootings appear to be within guidelines.

But police shootings of emotionally disturbed people are an especially sensitive issue to black New Yorkers.

The Amsterdam News headlined its story of Jeune’s shooting: “Police Kill Again: NYPD shoot mentally ill man in Brooklyn.”

Comparing Jeune‘s shooting to Danner’s, Councilman Jumaane Williams said, “We cannot keep having people who simply need help keep ending up dead.”

According to Barry’s motion, he and other officers arrived at Danner’s Pugsley Avenue apartment after a 911 caller described her as standing in the hallway of her building, “screaming, cursing, breaking things, slamming doors and ripping flyers off the wall.”

Two EMTs had also arrived. Because this was not a barricade situation, the ESU was not called, according to Barry’s motion.

The NYPD had responded to Danner’s residence on at least two previous occasions, his motion says. On one occasion, she barricaded herself in her apartment, requiring emergency responders to remove the locks to gain entry. On another, she threatened to jump from the building, forcing emergency responders to deploy air bags.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard Levitt According to the motion, another officer informed Barry that Danner was “sitting on her bed furiously snapping a pair of green-handled metal scissors.” Barry began talking with her and “after several minutes convinced her to put the scissors on her nightstand” and come outside into the hallway so the EMTs could treat her. But standing on the threshold, she refused to come out of her bedroom.

Fearing she might grab the scissors, he decided to collectively “rush her,” his papers say. She then ran back into the bedroom and grabbed a 32-inch baseball bat from under the bed covers, which Barry had not seen. According to the papers, she held it “in a right-handed baseball batter stance, with the bat above her right shoulder near her right ear.”

Barry “instructed Ms. Danner multiple times to ‘please drop the bat.’ Within in seconds, Ms. Danner [who stood 5-7 and weighed 233 pounds] lunged at Sgt. Barry and swung the bat at his head, the papers say.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialBarry then fired his weapon twice, killing her.

He “would have been struck in head with the bat if he had not fired his weapon when he did,” his motion states.

His motion adds that Bronx prosecutors have not turned over to Barry’s attorneys the expert’s testimony on the inappropriateness of using a Taser.

 Patrice O’Shaughnessy, a spokesperson for Bronx DA Darcel Clark, said in an email, “We will answer their motions in September.”

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