A New York City police sergeant was acquitted Thursday of murder in the fatal 2016 shooting of bat-wielding, mentally ill Deborah Danner, 66, in her Bronx apartment, the New York Times reports. Danner’s death became a flash point in the national, racially charged debate over whether police officers are too quick to shoot people and whether they are adequately trained in dealing with people suffering from severe mental illness. The sergeant, Hugh Barry, 32, had also been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
He was acquitted on all counts by Justice Robert Neary of State Supreme Court. Because the sergeant claimed self-defense,Neary said the prosecution needed to prove that he was “not justified in the use of deadly physical force.” The judge said, “The prosecution’s evidence has failed to meet that burden of proof.” The trial focused on police protocols for dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, or “EDPs.” Prosecutors argued that Barry escalated the encounter by not proceeding as cautiously as departmental guidelines and his training demanded. His lawyer, Andrew Quinn, argued that the department’s training set few hard-and-fast rules, often leaving decision-making to field supervisors, such as Sergeant Barry, a nine-year veteran. Barry shot Danner on Oct. 18, 2016. He said she refused his orders to drop a baseball bat and began to swing it at him. The police department has not said whether Barry would be welcomed back into the force or disciplined. Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark expressed disappointment with the verdict, saying Danner’s death “illustrates the larger issue of how we need changes in the way we address people with mental health issues.”