Mayor Bill de Blasio described the fatal shooting of a 66-year-old mentally-ill Bronx woman last night as a preventable tragedy, but commended Police Commissioner James O’Neill for his “transparency and accountability” about the failures of the NYPD sergeant who killed her.
At about 6:15 p.m., a uniformed sergeant—who some outlets have identified as Hugh Barry—investigating an apartment in the Bronx and found an emotionally disturbed woman, identified as Deborah Tanner, holding a pair of scissors, according to the NYPD. After putting down the scissors, Tanner approached the sergeant and grabbed a baseball bat and attempted hit him—leading him to fire two shots from his service revolver, even though he carried a stun gun, striking her in the torso. She sustained wounds to the torso and was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
This morning, O’Neill said point blank that the cop involved had acted inappropriately.
“What is clear in this once instance, we failed,” O’Neill told reporters this morning. “We do have policies and procedures for handling emotionally disturbed people and it looks like some of those procedures weren’t followed.”
De Blasio urged New Yorkers should have “have some faith right now” in his NYPD, since O’Neill immediately came forward and told the public what he believed had happened and”exactly how wrong it was.”
“Our commissioner very forthrightly told the people of this city what he saw and how it violated the protocols that are in place,” de Blasio said in City Hall’s Blue Room this afternoon. “I think that is an important statement of transparency and accountability and I think it’s very important to note that the commissioner took immediate action in modifying the sergeant, taking away his gun and badge.”
When a reporter inquired why the mayor did not have the full details about the officer involved in the shooting, and why O’Neill was absent from at the briefing, de Blasio responded in his typically hostile manner.
“Nice try and absolutely inaccurate,”the mayor said, even telling the reporter to ask a serious question in light of the gravity of the tragedy.
“The commissioner and I are fully coordinated,” de Blasio continued. “I said moments ago we met last night until 11 p.m. I spoke to him several times in the last hour here, totally coordinated.”
Indeed, the mayor said that despite not having an exhaustive account of the officer’s entire career, he knows for a fact that the officer experienced some of the de Blasio administration’s much-touted new training. He noted that there was time for the Emergency Services Unit to arrive, which he said is trained to deal with situations in which someone is inside of their home and acting erratically or violently and that there was also the option of bringing in hostage negotiators.
“The initial information suggests there was an initial de-escalation attempt by the sergeant and that it was successful in terms of getting Ms. Danner put down in particular a pair of scissors,” de Blasio said. “But why the rest of the protocol wasn’t followed is what we don’t understand.”
The mayor also said he met with Jennifer Danner, Deborah’s sister, who told him that her sister’s mental health problems had emerged during college and that she has spent decades trying to help her. Jennifer, who was in the hallway, also told the mayor that there were other instances in which police were able to successfully take Deborah out of the apartment so she could be hospitalized.
“It should never have happened. It’s as simple as that: it should never have happened,” de Blasio said.
And Monifa Bandele, spokeswoman for Communities United for Police Reform, expressed concerns about the fact that Danner is the seventh New Yorker considered emotionally disturbed to die in the NYPD’s hands either due to use of force or in police custody during the current administration. She similarly reiterated calls for the city to disclose the officer’s disciplinary records—which de Blasio’s police department has taken the unprecedented step of sealing.
“While acknowledgement of failure is an important step, whether this administration is serious about changing more than just rhetoric will be measured by whether disciplinary action is swift, meaningful and comprehensive,” Bandele said in a statement.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.—who first shot to citywide prominence after the Amadou Diallo shooting in 1999—has called on Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate Danner’s death. The City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus has echoed Bandele’s call for the de Blasio administration to release the officer’s disciplinary records.