True Crime

Defense Attorneys for Alleged Brooklyn Subway Shooter Frank James Claim the FBI Violated His Civil Rights

The defense attorneys of alleged Brooklyn subway shooter Frank James have accused federal authorities of improperly questioning James following his apprehension. In a court filing Thursday, his attorneys asserted that federal agents approached James, who is being housed at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, on Tuesday and directed him to sign several documents and give multiple DNA swabs. 

“Contrary to standard practice, the government committed this intrusion absent advance notice to counsel, depriving us of an opportunity to be heard or to be present. Neither did the government provide subsequent notice to counsel,” his defense attorneys argued in the filing

Frank James, 62, is facing multiple counts in federal court, including the use of a dangerous weapon to cause death and serious injury to passengers and employees on the New York subway system, according to Breon Peace, US attorney for the Eastern District of New York. He is also charged under 18 U.S.C. 1992(a)(7), which prohibits terrorist and other violent attacks. 

James’ defense attorneys, Mia Eisner-Grynberg and Deirdre von Dornum, of the Federal Defenders of New York, also asserted that they did not receive notice of the FBI’s intentions to question their client and take DNA swabs from him, even though they had been appointed as his legal counsel by the court 12 days prior. 

Eisner-Grynberg and von Dornum asked the judge to order the government to supply them with “the underlying affidavit upon which this search warrant was issued” and sought to have any statements made by James during the search to be suppressed. 

Peace dismissed the claims of impropriety lodged by James’ defense team as unsubstantiated, classifying the allegations as “hyperbole.”

“The affidavit in support of the search warrant for DNA buccal swab samples was filed publicly with the redactions required,” Peace wrote. “It is the government’s understanding that in the brief period required to take the buccal swab samples, the defendant was not questioned by and made no relevant statements to the law enforcement officers who executed the search warrant.”

NYPD officers took Frank James into custody outside a smoke shop on St. Marks Place and 1st Avenue in the East Village. (Photo: Meredith Goldberg/AP)

James is alleged to have rented a U-Haul truck––picked up in Philadelphia the day before the shooting––which was found three blocks away from the subway station on Kings Highway in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn. Police allege James then entered the Kings Highway station at 6:12 a.m. on Tuesday, April 12, where he was caught on surveillance video wearing a reflective safety jacket and yellow hard hat, wearing a backpack and lugging a rolling duffel bag. James is believed to have meandered about the station for roughly two hours before boarding a Manhattan-bound N train. 

As the train pulled away from the 59th Street Station in the working-class neighborhood of Sunset Park, James, who was sitting in the rear of the second car, allegedly donned a gas mask and set off smoke grenades, obscuring the view of passengers, before opening fire in the crowded car shortly before 8:30 a.m.

“The whole car was engulfed in smoke,” Yav Montano, who was on the express train heading to work at the time of the shooting, recalled in an interview with CNN. “I couldn’t even use my mask anymore because it was black with smoke. It was ridiculous.”

The gunman appeared to shoot aimlessly, firing at least 33 times, striking 10 people and injuring 19 others. Fortunately, the Glock 9 mm semi-automatic handgun believed to have been used in the shooting jammed, preventing further carnage. 

“The suspect was in the train car. The shooting began in the train car,” New York Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at a news conference on April 13. “As the train was pulling into the station, the subject put on a gas mask. He then opened a canister that was in his bag, and then the car began to fill with smoke. After that, he began shooting.”

Police allege that after his weapon jammed, James fled the scene, hopping on an R train on the other side of the platform being used to evacuate passengers. After the smoke cleared, investigators found the U-Haul key along with the handgun used in the shooting, three extended 9 mm magazines, a hatchet, gasoline, and two detonated and two non-detonated smoke grenades at the scene of the shooting. A credit card bearing James’ name was also discovered on the floor of the subway car where the shooting took place. 

After a 30 hour manhunt, James was apprehended in the East Village, just a block away from Tompkins Square Park, where NYPD officers were conducting a sweep of a homeless encampment. He allegedly called Crimestoppers to turn himself in, stating that officers could find him at the McDonald’s near 6th Street and 1st Avenue, reportedly stating “I think you’re looking for me. I’m seeing my picture all over the news, and I’ll be around this McDonalds.”

Alleged Brooklyn subway shooter Frank James was finally apprehended by police outside of this smoke shop on the corner of East 6th Street and 1st Avenue. (Photo by author)

Despite being a mere 3-minute walk from the nearest precinct, it took officers about an hour to find and arrest James. When the NYPD responded to the McDonald’s, they failed to locate James inside the premises. 

Vigilant citizens noticed James walking up 1st Avenue shortly afterwards and alerted authorities. Zach Tahhan, who was fixing the security system at a business in the area, spotted James and notified the police. 

“This bad guy, he was walking on the sidewalk, and he put the bag in the street like this, and I say to people, ‘Guys, please!’ The people was walking behind him. I told them, ‘Guys, keep far from him! Please, this guy is going to do something.’ People think I am crazy, like, nobody tries to believe me. I told them, ‘Guys, trust me, this guy, this is the guy,’” Tahhan said.

“I feel very happy because we catch this guy,” Tahhan said as he was being ushered into the back of a police cruiser to be taken to the precinct for an interview.

Zach Tahhan speaks to the media shortly after Frank James was arrested. (Photo by author)

A bizarre twist in the case occurred when YouTube and Facebook videos––later removed for violating the platform’s terms of service––posted to accounts with ominous names such as “prophet of truth88” and “profitofdoom008” surfaced online. In an affidavit in support of an application for an arrest warrant for Frank James, FBI Special Agent Jorge Alvarez confirmed that the videos––which featured a man who bore a strong resemblance to James––were, in fact, posted by the shooting suspect. 

Unlike some mass shooting suspects who have a clear ideological motivation, James’ videos were primarily disjointed, profanity-laced rants that often lacked any semblance of logic. He made numerous disparaging statements about a variety of racial and ethnic groups, including whites, Jews, Blacks, and Latinos. In a video posted on March 23 titled “born in an insane asylum,” James argues for segregation, stating “white people and Black people should not have any contact with each other.”

He also accused Mayor Eric Adams of failing to address the issues of homelessness and subway crime, condemning the mayor’s homeless outreach efforts as ineffective. “He can’t stop no crime in no subways,” James said of Mayor Adams in one video. “He may slow it down but he ain’t stopping it.” In another video posted the day before the shooting, James said that he wanted to kill people but did not want to go to jail.  

“This nation was born in violence, it’s kept alive by violence or the threat thereof and it’s going to die a violent death,” he said in one video. “There’s nothing going to stop that.”

James has not entered a plea on charges of violating a federal law that prohibits terrorist and other violent attacks against mass transit. He remains in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn awaiting trial. 

1 Comment
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