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Sergeant Charged in Fatal Shooting of Bronx Woman Wants Change of Venue

By Kate Pastor | July 17, 2017 6:17pm
 Deborah Danner, 66, was shot to death in her Castle Hill apartment.
Deborah Danner, 66, was shot to death in her Castle Hill apartment.
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Twitter/@DeborahDanner01 and DNAinfo/Trevor Kapp

THE BRONX — The NYPD sergeant indicted for the shooting death of a 233-pound Castle Hill woman with a violent mental health history thought he could control her without escalating to lethal force, according to his lawyer.

Court documents filed Friday arguing Sgt. Hugh Barry can't get a fair trial in The Bronx and should be tried elsewhere, offer the most detailed account to date of the shooting from the officer's perspective and hint at his defense.

The sergeant, who will stand trial on second-degree murder charges in the death of Deborah Danner, 66, was forced to fire two shots at the woman as she was "swinging a baseball bat at the head of Sergeant Barry at the moment she was shot," his lawyer said.

The 911 call that led to Barry's response described a "paranoid schizophrenic" in the building's hallway "screaming, cursing, breaking things, slamming doors, and ripping flyers off the wall."

Security had already tried to calm her unsuccessfully, said the caller, who described her as "really aggressive" and "extremely irritated," saying that  she "could be violent."

"Approach with caution," the caller said, according to court documents.

Barry, responding to the call for an emotionally disturbed and "violent" person, first met Danner's sister who told him Danner had a "psychiatric history" and asked officers not damage the door to gain entry "this time."

The NYPD had responded to Danner's home at least twice before and she had barricaded herself in her apartment requiring emergency responders to remove the locks to her apartment door to gain entry at least once, according to the documents.

Danner once threatened to jump from the building, and some neighbors refused to ride in the elevator with her, the documents say.

When Barry arrived at the floor where her apartment was, officers already there told him that Danner — who stood at 5 feet, 7 inches and weighed 233 pounds — was on the bed in her bedroom "furiously snapping a pair of green-handled metal scissors," court papers say.

As she sat on her bed cutting paper, Barry asked her to put the scissors down. She refused and "grabbed the scissors by the handle, gripping them blades up." He was eventually able to convince her to put the scissors down on a nightstand, according to the account, but then Danner stood and walked to the bedroom doorway, still refusing to leave.

"I'm not going any further," she said, according to the court papers, as Barry and the other officers stood in the living room while EMTs waited in the building hallway to treat her.

Barry signaled to the officer beside him to grab Danner, before she could go back to the bedroom for the scissors.

"Sergeant Barry's belief was that he could rush Ms. Danner and control her with his hands, foregoing the need for a higher level of force," according to the documents.

But when Barry and other officers rushed toward her, she ran into the bedroom and, as Barry followed, grabbed a wooden baseball bat from under the bed covers, holding it in a "batter stance," though still partially seated on the bed.

The sergeant, unable to retreat from the bedroom "due to the proximity of the threat posed by Ms. Danner, the size of the bedroom, and the presence of the other officers behind him" drew his gun and instructed her to drop the bat, the documents say.

That is when Danner lunged off the bed, swinging the bat at his head.

He fired two shots, which, according to the court documents, was "consistent with his NYPD training."

Barry's lawyer, Andrew C. Quinn, who is seeking to move the case, said that "a fair and impartial trial cannot be had in Bronx County."

Media accounts and official responses have been prejudicial, the papers claim.

Mr. Quinn is asking that the case be sent to Albany County, or if that's not possible, to Westchester County, instead.

Barry is due back in court Oct. 16. He has pleaded not guilty to murder, two counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.