The New York Police Department is apologizing after an officer responding to a report of an “emotionally disturbed person” in the Bronx on Tuesday night fatally shot a 66-year-old woman who was known by police to have mental health problems.
“What is clear in this one instance, we failed. I want to know why it happened,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill told reporters on Wednesday. “Instances like what happened last night in the Bronx…just increase the tension.”
The police officer allegedly encountered the woman, who was later identified as Deborah Danner, naked and armed with scissors in her apartment on Pugsley Avenue shortly after 6 PM. Police claim that, after the officer persuaded Danner to put down the scissors, she moved toward him and grabbed a baseball bat.
As she attempted to hit the officer, he fired his service weapon, hitting Danner twice in the torso, Assistant Police Chief Larry Nikunen, commanding officer of Patrol Borough Bronx, said in a Tuesday night news conference.
Danner was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead. According to DNAInfo, the officer involved, Hugh Barry, has been placed on modified duty.
Now police say they will conduct a full investigation into the shooting, including why the officer used deadly force instead of reaching for his Taser.
“The sergeant was armed with a Taser, it was not deployed, and the reason it was not deployed will be part of the investigation and review,” Nikunen said in the conference.
He said the police had had interactions with Danner before after similar calls, and neighbors told local news stations that she had a history of erratic behavior.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. called the shooting an “outrage” and called for an investigation by the New York attorney general.
“While I certainly understand the hard work that our police officers undertake to keep the streets of our city safe every single day, I also know what excessive force looks like,” Diaz said in a statement Tuesday night. “This elderly woman was known to the police department, yet the officer involved in this shooting failed to use discretion to either talk her down from her episode or, barring that, to use his stun gun.”
According to the Washington Post’s database of fatal shootings by police, Danner was at least the 771st person to be killed by an officer this year. Mental illness played a role in about a quarter of all police killings last year.