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Crazy Eddie: Not So Crazy

February 19, 2018

Some in the police department refer to him as “Crazy Eddie” but what Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins said after a state judge acquitted Sgt. Hugh Barry of murder charges last week is 100 percent accurate: “What I saw was the police commissioner play politics. I saw a mayor play politics and a district attorney play politics.”

Let’s begin with Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark. She had charged Barry with second degree, or intentional, murder, for fatally shooting Deborah Danner, an emotionally disturbed, 66-year-old black woman who Barry believed was about to swing a baseball bat at his head. Maybe you can criticize Barry’s judgement or tactics. But second degree murder?

Even lesser charges like manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, which Clark also charged Barry with, are a heavy lift when a cop feels his life is threatened. So why did Clark go up the line and also charge Barry with second degree murder? She played to her Bronx constituency, which expects its elected officials to, whenever possible, sock it to the cops.

Twenty years ago, Clark’s predecessor, Robert Johnson, also charged the four cops who fatally shot the unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo with second degree murder. As outrageous and horrifying as that shooting was, Johnson’s second degree murder charge marked the beginning of the PBA’s play that culminated in the state’s Appellate Division moving the case out of the Bronx. The case was switched to Albany, where the four were acquitted.

This might be the place to point out how Bronx politics allowed Clark, then a State Supreme Court judge, to succeed Johnson as district attorney while at the same time, Johnson succeeded Clark as a State Supreme Court judge.

This political switcheroo occurred after Johnson won his Sept.10, 2015 Democratic primary, then a week later announced he was resigning to seek a judgeship. Such timing allowed Bronx county leaders — rather than the voters in the Bronx — to choose his replacement on the November ballot. That was Clark, who resigned her judgeship. Voila!

Barry’s case now moves to Manhattan, where Police Commissioner Jim O’Neill seems likely to try him on departmental charges, regarding his tactics. This could lead to his firing.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialO’Neill, though, has boxed himself in here and some are suggesting he should recuse himself from making the final decision on Barry because he has publicly prejudged the case. Immediately after the shooting, which occurred in October, 2016, during his first month in office, O’Neill stated, “We failed. We were called that apartment to help someone [and] ended up killing her.”

Mayor de Blasio, gunning for a second term, piled on. “It’s quite clear that our 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 standard was met here,” he said. “Deborah Danner should be alive now, period.”

When he was appointed commissioner, O’Neill was described as “a cop’s cop.” With Barry, he will have to choose between being a cop’s cop or the mayor’s cop.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittFinally, there’s the mysterious politics of the state judiciary, which Mullins didn’t mention. Especially in the Bronx, police officers usually waive their right to a jury trial and prefer to have their cases tried by a judge. Was it coincidence that Barry’s case was assigned to Robert Neary, a white, longtime Westchester judge who currently sits in the Bronx? Court spokesman Lucian Chalfen tried valiantly, yet he couldn’t explain exactly how the case ended up before him.

Three decades ago, in a case comparable to Danner’s, police shot and killed Eleanor Bumpurs, another emotionally disturbed black woman, who during an eviction proceeding allegedly charged at the cops with a ten-inch carving knife. Stephen Sullivan, the cop who shot her, waived his right to a jury and had his case tried by Frederick Eggert, a retiring white judge, who acquitted him. The Bronx DA’s office explained at the time that assigning the case to a retiring judge like Eggert insulated him from local pressure to convict.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialAssigning Barry’s trial to Neary might insulate him from these local pressures. But isn’t Danner’s family, as well as the borough’s large black and Hispanic communities that have long, and justifiably, distrusted the courts, owed an explanation that is more than Neary’s curt declaration that the District Attorney had failed to prove its case and that he was therefore acquitting Barry of all charges?

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