On October 18, 2016, New York police and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) personnel responded to calls for assistance at a Bronx apartment complex where an emotionally disturbed person (EDP) had become disruptive and aggressive with others in the building. The woman, a 66 year-old African-American who was the subject of prior emergency responses including at least one where she had barricaded herself inside, was treated as having the potential for violence.
Following protocols for this sort of encounter, NYPD Sergeant Hugh Barry sped to the scene.
Sgt. Barry arrived to encounter multiple other NYPD officers engaging with the disturbed woman from a distance, preventing her assessment by EMS personnel for safety reasons. As the senior officer, Sgt. Barry took over communications with the woman, who was gripping a pair of scissors in her bedroom and profanely refusing to come outside.
With patience and skill, Sgt. Barry was able to de-escalate the situation, convincing the woman to put down the scissors and step from her bedroom to talk with police, but she would come no further in order to engage with EMS safely.
After several minutes of discussion, Sgt. Barry believed he might be close enough to try to rush and grab the woman. He motioned non-verbally to a nearby officer regarding his intent but when he and other uniformed officers rushed forward, the woman fled into her bedroom, grabbed a baseball bat from under the bed linens, turned, and assumed a baseball batter’s stance.
Sgt. Barry instructed her to put the bat down but she lunged at him from her position on the edge of the bed, beginning to swing the bat at his head. With the immediate and potentially deadly threat to himself and other officers who’d rushed into the small bedroom, Sgt. Barry followed his training and fired, twice to stop the advancing threat. While he succeeded in stopping her, his shots were, tragically, fatal.
Regardless of the facts of the encounter, when a white police officer uses deadly force against an African-American in the Bronx, there should be little doubt about what comes next. Sgt. Barry was stripped of his badge and gun and placed on modified duty. Very quickly, notorious police detractor and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed the shooting “unacceptable” and suggested Sgt. Barry rushed the police response. The scandal-ridden Bronx District Attorney, Darcel Clark, convened a special grand jury to review the incident.
On May 31, 2017, Clark’s special grand jury indicted Sgt. Barry for second degree murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. If convicted, he faces life in prison. This is the judgment of Darcel Clark’s grand jury – potential life imprisonment for defending yourself against a baseball bat wielding paranoid schizophrenic woman who refused to take medicines that might control her psychosis.
The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund takes seriously the words of the U. S. Supreme Court in evaluating the appropriateness of police force: “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
As they commonly do, the Supreme Court got it exactly right and the dynamics of Sgt. Barry’s fatal encounter matches their seminal language. Did Sgt. Barry pull out his Taser while trying to negotiate a safe surrender to police and EMS? No, he was trying to de-escalate rather than agitate a paranoid woman. Did he pepper spray her to try to incapacitate her in her own apartment? No, he was trying to talk her to safety and treatment. Only when she began to swing a baseball bat at his head did Sgt. Barry resort to a weapon. But none of that mattered to the Bill de Blasio, the Bronx DA, or the cop-haters.
Sgt. Hugh Barry got married just a month before this deadly encounter. He’s a second generation NYPD officer, son of a police sergeant and following in his father’s proud footsteps, who never had to discharge his firearm during nine years on the force. He’s made dozens of arrests and been recipient of five Excellent Police Duty medals. But all that is now behind him while he faces an uncertain, worrisome future.
LELDF stands with Sgt. Barry and the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association and we hope you will too.