NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry, who was acquitted of murder charges for shooting a mentally-ill woman who threatened him with a baseball bat, has passed the test for promotion to Lieutenant. But his union says it’s not clear whether Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill will let him move up.
At issue are administrative charges of failure to supervise that the department filed against Sergeant Barry after a judge acquitted him of second-degree murder and lesser homicide charges in the death of Deborah Danner, 66, a schizophrenic who was causing a disturbance in the hallway of her Bronx apartment building on the evening of Oct. 8, 2016.
Brave or Sycophant?
“O’Neill is hiding behind the discipline process,” Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said in an interview with this newspaper. “The whole issue comes down to whether O’Neill has the courage to give a fair trial or whether he’s going to bow down to the Mayor.”
Sergeant Barry testified in Bronx Supreme Court that he had persuaded Ms. Danner to put down a pair of scissors she was holding and leave her bedroom. In the living room, he said, he tried to grab her arm, but she eluded him, returned to the bedroom and picked up the bat. He drew his pistol, he continued, and when she rushed him he shot her.
In acquitting Sergeant Barry in February, Justice Robert A. Neary said that prosecutors had failed to prove that he was not legitimately in fear for his life.
The case drew attention after both Mr. O’Neill and Mayor de Blasio harshly criticized Sergeant Barry less than 24 hours after the shooting, saying that he had failed to follow police protocols recommending that he call specially-trained officers from the Emergency Services Unit and that he used his Taser rather than his firearm when it came time to stop her.
Mr. Mullins has stoutly defended Sergeant Barry, saying that Mr. O’Neill and Mr. de Blasio were reacting politically after some Bronx politicians had called the shooting unwarranted. They spoke before the NYPD had even finished investigating the shooting.
Shortly after the acquittal, Mr. O’Neill announced that the case might be over for the courts, but not for him. He said Sergeant Barry would remain on modified duty without his weapon and badge while the department pursued administrative charges.
Generally, officers are not promoted while charges against them are pending, and the Police Commissioner has the authority to skip over a name on the civil-service list.
Mayor Blocking Upgrade?
Mr. Mullins said he was told that the pressure for continued action against the Sergeant was coming from the Mayor’s Office.
He said Sergeant Barry’s predicament was another example of “white-shirt immunity,” under which Chiefs and Deputy Commissioners get a pass while the rank and file get charges.
He cited Chief of Department Terence Monahan, who as a Deputy Chief was in charge of NYPD operations at the 2004 Republican National Convention during which 1,800 people were arrested, with many detained in a filthy former fuel depot.
Hundreds of those detained argued they did nothing wrong except have the bad luck to be caught up in police dragnets. Ninety percent of the arrests were dismissed. The city spent $18 million to settle lawsuits filed by more than 1,600 people.
“He cost the city $18 million, now he’s Chief of Department,” Mr. Mullins said.
Troubles of His Own
He added that Mr. O’Neill was caught up in his own failure-to-supervise case. In 2008, Mr. O’Neill was a Deputy Chief commanding the Narcotics Division when a corruption scandal broke.
Following standard practice, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly removed him from that assignment. Rather than facing charges, “he got transferred,” Mr. Mullins said. Mr. O’Neill spent several years working for the Chief of Detectives until new Commissioner William J. Bratton rehabilitated him.
The promotion dispute was first reported by the Daily News.
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