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After shooting of emotionally disturbed woman, NYC's top cop says "we failed"

Deborah Danner

Facebook via CBS New York

NEW YORK — New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill pledged Wednesday to investigate the fatal police shooting of a 66-year-old emotionally disturbed woman in the city’s Bronx borough Tuesday evening, reports CBS New York.

“We failed,” James O’Neill said of the shooting. “Our first obligation is to preserve life, not to take a life if it can be avoided.”

The incident happened shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday inside Deborah Danner’s apartment. Police said NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry, who arrived at the home after receiving a call about an emotionally disturbed person, found Danner with scissors in her hand.

“He engaged the female in conversation and persuaded her to put down the scissors,” said NYPD Assistant Chief Larry Nikunen. “The female subject approached the sergeant and grabbed a baseball bat. As she attempted to strike the sergeant, he fired two shots from his service revolver, striking her in the torso.”

She was immediately rushed to Jacobi Hospital, but did not survive.

Police said there have been several incidents with Danner with similar types of calls. According to her family, Danner had been dealing with mental illness for decades.

Addressing the media Wednesday, O’Neill said, officers are taught “policies and procedures for handling emotionally-disturbed people.”

“It looks like that some of those procedures were not followed,” O’Neill said.

Police said the sergeant was armed with a Taser, but used a firearm instead, a decision that was criticized by community members and activists.

“It’s disturbing that police do not de-escalate these situations,” said Hawk Newsome, a Black Lives Matter activist. “They have Tasers, they have mace. Why is it that people always end up dead?”

In a statement, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.condemned the shooting.

“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,” Diaz said. “That is totally unacceptable.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was briefed on the shooting and promised a full investigation.

“We’re determined to get to the bottom of what happened and won’t rest until we do,” he said on Twitter.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office says it is “reviewing the incident to determine whether or not it falls within the Attorney General’s jurisdiction under the Executive Order. We extend our deepest condolences to Ms. Danner’s family.”