(CNN) — The New York Police Department “failed” when an officer killed a 66-year-old mentally ill woman who attacked him with a baseball bat in a Bronx apartment, police Commissioner James O’Neill said Wednesday.
“We do have policies and procedures for handling emotionally disturbed people, and it looks like that some of those procedures weren’t followed,” O’Neill said during a speech to the Citizens Crime Commission in Manhattan. “What is clear in this one instance is we failed.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said the killing was “an outrage” and questioned why the officer who killed Deborah Danner didn’t use a stun gun.
Officers went to the apartment around 6 p.m. Tuesday after a neighbor called 911 about an a woman acting in an irrational manner, Assistant Chief Larry W. Nikunen said. Police have gone to the apartment before to handle similar calls, Nikunen said.
A sergeant entered the seventh-floor apartment and encountered the woman, who was armed with scissors, but he persuaded her to put them down, Nikunen said.
The woman grabbed a baseball bat and attempted to strike the sergeant, Nikunen said. The officer fired two shots, striking the woman in the torso, he said. She died of her injuries after being taken to Jacobi Medical Center.
Officer on ‘modified assignment’
The officer was armed with a Taser, but it was not deployed, Nikunen said. Why the stun gun wasn’t used will be a part of the investigation by the New York police’s Force Investigation Division, Nikunen said.
Danner was a 66-year-old black female who lived alone, Nikunen said.
The officer has not been named, but Nikunen said he is a white male and an eight-year veteran of the police department.
Thomas Antonetti of the Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information said the officer is on “modified assignment” that requires he be stripped of his gun and badge pending the investigation.
Nikunen didn’t have details on the earlier incidents when police went to Danner’s apartment.
The killing comes after protests in recent years over fatal police shootings of black people in cities such as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Ferguson, Missouri. Protesters have been demanding justice and an end to police brutality.
‘Our first obligation is to preserve life’
New York officials quickly responded to the Bronx shooting, including the police commissioner.
“That’s not how it’s supposed to go,” O’Neill said. “It’s not how we train. Our first obligation is to preserve life, not to take a life when it can be avoided.”
O’Neill said the officer would have received classes on de-escalation in 2014-15. Last year New York police responded to about 150,000 calls involving emotionally disturbed persons, he said.
“Our policy is isolate and contain,” O’Neill said. “If you have somebody in a certain area, time is on our side. ESU (the emergency service unit) is dispatched to every emotionally disturbed person job, so we had time.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: “We’re determined to get to the bottom of what happened and won’t rest until we do.”
Attorney general to review case
Diaz, the Bronx borough president, issued a statement calling the shooting “an outrage, especially given the New York Police Department’s knowledge of this woman’s history and the police officer’s possession of a stun gun.
“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 called on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark to investigate.
Under an executive order Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed in 2015 after the police killing of Eric Garner, the attorney general can act as a special prosecutor in cases in which law enforcement officers kill civilians.
A spokesman for the attorney general said his office was reviewing the fatal shooting.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement: “Use of deadly force must be a last resort and once again we have an instance where it was not. Deborah Danner should have been helped, not killed.”
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James tweeted, “Police-involved shooting of woman in Bronx is concerning. We need a swift, thorough, transparent (investigation).”
Law professor weighs in
Eugene O’Donnell, professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told CNN that these situations are “all too common and all too predictable.”
But the shooting appeared to be legally justified, he said.
O’Donnell said that ideally, mentally unstable individuals should be protected and overseen to make sure they stay on their medications.
He said the New York Police Department has specially trained officers for these types of incidents, but the officers who initially respond usually don’t have that training.
“Anyone who says this was a Taser situation doesn’t understand what the police do,” he said. “A baseball bat can cause death or serious physical injury, and a Taser is not appropriate in a deadly force situation.”
Carolina, and Ferguson, Missouri. Protesters have been demanding justice and an end to police brutality.