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Sgt. Hugh Barry: Will He Testify?
March 20, 2017
A Bronx grand jury is set to hear evidence against Sgt. Hugh Barry, a white officer who fatally shot a mentally disturbed, 66-year-old, black woman who, the eight-year NYPD veteran says, attacked him in her apartment with a baseball bat.
At issue is whether Barry will testify. That’s a tricky decision, one especially difficult before Bronx grand juries, considered notoriously anti-cop by many in the NYPD.
“The case is screaming for him to testify,” said a source familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He has to set the scene. He has to explain why he didn’t back off and contain the situation by closing the door behind him and isolating her until Emergency Service cops arrived. It was a good shooting but bad tactics.”
Barry had first talked the woman, Deborah Danner, into dropping a knife she was holding and apparently thought he had established a rapport with her, the source said. “The issue is when she picks up the bat, how close she was standing to him, whether she came towards him, whether she was holding the bat above his head.”
Barry’s lawyer, Andrew Quinn, did not return phone calls from NYPD Confidential. Patrice O’Shaughnessy, a spokeswoman for Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, declined comment.
Commissioner James O’Neill, only a few weeks into the job at the time of the October shooting, placed Barry on modified assignment before the department’s internal investigation was completed. O’Neill said Barry, who shot Danner twice in the torso, had not followed established procedures for dealing with mentally ill people because he didn’t first use his Taser and failed to wait for an Emergency Service Unit to arrive at the scene.
A few hours later, Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled down, saying provocatively, “Deborah Danner should be alive now. Period.” He added that “officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation and it is very hard for any of us to see that that standard was met here. The sergeant involved had the training; he had the tools to deal with this situation in a different manner.”
Ed Mullins, the head of the sergeants’ union, said that O’Neill’s comments, and particularly the mayor’s, had poisoned the case against Barry — much as former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly had done in 2004 when he said Officer Richard Neri had acted outside police guidelines when he shot teenager Timothy Stansbury on the roof of his Brooklyn apartment building. A grand jury subsequently chose not to indict Neri, concluding the shooting was accidental.
The mayor himself dodged a bullet last week — actually two bullets — when federal and Manhattan prosecutors took the unusual step of saying they would not indict him on political corruption charges. Still, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the mayor had violated “the spirit and intent” of campaign finance laws.
The mayor would countenance none of that, telling the ubiquitous WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer — who had questioned him about the spirit of the law — that his question was “outrageous.”
Dropping the investigations means the mayor’s re-election appears his to lose. The only thing in his path is his own big mouth.
Former Daily News columnist Michael Daly put it best: “There’s all this talk now of American greatness,” he wrote yesterday. “If you want to know American greatness, go back and read all that Jimmy wrote.”
People say his greatest column was of President John F. Kennedy’s gravedigger, a simple man, a war veteran who earned $3.01 an hour. My favorites were those he wrote from the Middle East in the 1970s that depicted the horrors of war more poignantly than any celebrated foreign correspondent. Then there was Un Occhio, the one-eyed mafia don of East Harlem, who kept a wolf in his basement. It took about 10 paragraphs before you realized Breslin had made much of it up. Un Occhio was but one of several of his characters loosely based on reality. The columns were written so artfully and authentically that even law enforcement officials believed them.
No matter how good a reporter you thought you were, you couldn’t compete with him. I once wrote a story about a young mother in the Bronx or Upper Manhattan — I can’t remember which — who had jumped from the roof of her apartment building, her baby in her arms. I went to the scene, found some of the poor woman’s friends, who told me they might have done the same thing because their lives were so harsh. I thought I wrote a pretty good story. Then I read Breslin’s. He had retraced the woman’s climb up to the roof, stopping at each landing to interview people about her.
He once called me at home at 6 a.m. to say he liked a story I had written. When I mumbled my thanks, he said he’d been up since 4:30 a.m. “You know why?” he said. “Because the early bird gets the worm.”
Then, he hung up.
Copyright © 2017 Leonard Levitt