Woman wrote about po­lice killings be­fore of­fi­cer killed her

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Jen­nifer Peltz As­so­ci­ated Press writer Deepti Ha­jela contributed to this re­port.

In a sear­ing, elo­quent es­say on liv­ing with schizophre­nia, Deb­o­rah Dan­ner ag­o­nized over the deaths of men­tally ill peo­ple like her at the hands of po­lice.

Less than five years later, she be­came part of that toll. A po­lice sergeant, called be­cause Dan­ner was in dis­tress, fa­tally shot her Tues­day in her Bronx apart­ment after she went at him with a base­ball bat, po­lice said.

With the mayor say­ing the sergeant failed to fol­low his train­ing in han­dling men­tally ill peo­ple, Dan­ner’s death seems to echo a sce­nario she dreaded in a 2012 es­say.

“We are all aware of the all too fre­quent news sto­ries about the men­tally ill who come up against law en­force­ment in­stead of men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als and end up dead,” she wrote.

Dan­ner called for “teach­ing law en­force­ment how to deal with the men­tally ill in cri­sis,” train­ing the city has em­pha­sized in the last two years.

Po­lice have been look­ing into why Sgt. Hugh Barry didn’t use a stun gun or call for spe­cially trained emer­gency ser­vice of­fi­cers. Bronx prose­cu­tors an­nounced Thurs­day they’ll in­ves­ti­gate.

Al­though in­ves­ti­ga­tors haven’t reached con­clu­sions, Demo­cratic Mayor Bill de Bla­sio branded the shoot­ing “un­ac­cept­able” and said the sit­u­a­tion didn’t ap­pear to merit the use of deadly force, while sergeants’ union pres­i­dent Ed Mullins de­scribed the shoot­ing as self-de­fense.

It wasn’t Dan­ner’s first in­ter­ac­tion with po­lice, who had safely taken her to hos­pi­tals dur­ing pre­vi­ous psy­chi­atric episodes, de Bla­sio said.

Still, mem­o­ries of lethal en­coun­ters be­tween po­lice and peo­ple in psy­cho­log­i­cal cri­sis weighed on her. Her es­say al­ludes to the case of Eleanor Bumpurs, a Bronx woman killed in 1984 after wav­ing a knife at of­fi­cers dur­ing an evic­tion.

Dan­ner saw the story as a stark ex­am­ple of in­suf­fi­cient po­lice train­ing. And, per­haps, it held a thread of per­sonal con­nec­tion: Both women were 66, were black and had his­to­ries of men­tal ill­ness.

For Dan­ner, that ill­ness was an ever-lurk­ing force of self-doubt, de­pres­sion, iso­la­tion and flash­backs to bad mo­ments, she wrote in her es­say, first re­ported by The New York Times.

“I ex­pe­ri­ence it as a need for con­stant vig­i­lance” for any sig­nal of a de­scent to­ward the be­hav­ior that spurred her to change clothes in a pub­lic re­stroom so an un­spec­i­fied “they” couldn’t track her and to look for a pub­lic place to kill her­self, she wrote. She said she’d been sick since her late 20s and had been hos­pi­tal­ized sev­eral times.

Rel­a­tives, she wrote, had kept their dis­tance or acted ma­li­ciously. Her sis­ter, how­ever, was at her build­ing to ac­com­pany her to a hospi­tal when she was killed.

“My sis­ter’s life was taken be­cause she was ill,” Jen­nifer Dan­ner said on Wed­nes­day.

U.S. po­lice de­part­ments have strug­gled with how to train of­fi­cers on re­spond­ing to emo­tion­ally dis­turbed peo­ple, said Chuck Wexler, who heads the Wash­ing­ton-based Po­lice Ex­ec­u­tive Re­search Fo­rum.

In New York, a highly trained Emer­gency Ser­vice Unit often re­sponds, but the city has tried to give all pa­trol of­fi­cers up­dated train­ing on rec­og­niz­ing signs of men­tal ill­ness and un­der­stand­ing how peo­ple in cri­sis might act and re­act to po­lice.

“In th­ese sit­u­a­tions, slow­ing it down, us­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, us­ing time and dis­tance, is a very im­por­tant fac­tor,” Wexler said.

City of­fi­cials have said Barry re­cently took train­ing and per­suaded Dan­ner to drop a pair of scis­sors be­fore she tried to hit him with the bat.

Dan­ner gave her es­say last year to at­tor­ney Charles J. Har­g­reaves, who rep­re­sented her in a case that gave her sis­ter guardian­ship of her, he said.

“She wanted to be seen as a whole per­son, not just a schiz­o­phrenic, not just a di­ag­no­sis. And she re­ally was that whole per­son,” who loved books and en­joyed sketch­ing peo­ple in a lo­cal park, he said Thurs­day.

For all her strug­gles, Dan­ner, who was ap­peal­ing the guardian­ship rul­ing, wrote that she had found sup­port through a church and from a ther­a­pist.

“I smile rarely,” Dan­ner wrote, “but I am sur­viv­ing.”

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