The deadly police shooting of an emotionally disturbed Bronx grandmother sparked demonstrations about the use of police force and generated criticism by the mayor. On Tuesday, the trial of the veteran police officer charged with murder in her death got under way. NY1 Criminal Justice Reporter Dean Meminger was there.
Bronx prosecutors say Sergeant Hugh Barry must be convicted of murder in the 2016 killing of Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old grandmother with paranoid schizophrenia.
"He created a situation that led to and resulted in her death," said Assistant District Attorney Newton Mendys.
Sergeant Barry stared straight ahead as his non-jury trial opened with the prosecution arguing he ignored his training in handling emotionally disturbed people when he confronted Danner in her Bronx apartment..
"He failed to listen to Ms. Danner, to hear Ms. Danner," the ADA said. "He failed to grasp the action of a mentally ill woman. There can be no doubt that Miss Danner believed that Sergeant Barry and five other New York City police officers who responded that night were a threat to herself."
Police were called to the Pugsley Avenue apartment because neighbors complained Danner was in the hallway yelling. Cops had been there many times before because of her long history of mental illness.
In its opening arguments, the defense called the shooting self-defense, saying Danner held scissors and eventually grabbed a bat, and that Barry feared for his life.
"(When a) 223 pound person swings a bat at your head, it's going to crush your skull," said defense attorney Andrew Quinn. "Sergeant Barry has his gun out, Deborah Danner has the bat, she's waggling the back she's about to swing. He had every right to shoot her right there judge. She was four feet away from him threatening him with a deadly weapon."
Danner's sister and legal guardian Jennifer Danner calmly testified her sister was very agitated after the two argued over money earlier in the day. Jennifer Danner says that when she heard the gunshots she screamed.
No matter the outcome of this trial, some say the police department and the city must do a better job when it comes to dealing with people with mental illness.
Members of churches that Deborah Danner attended sat in the courtroom as the trial began.
"She was not a criminal she was sick," said Rev. Winnie Varghese. "If all we have is our NYPD as the front line and our EMTs then they have to be properly trained to deal with mental health crisis or this becomes a tragedy for everyone involved."
The trial will resume on Thursday.