Lawyers spar over DNA swab on suspect in NYC subway shooting
Two weeks after a man was accused of terrorizing the New York City subway system in Brooklyn, prosecutors and his defense attorneys are sparring over an FBI jailhouse visit to the suspect.
Defense attorneys claimed in a court filing Thursday that agents unexpectedly and improperly took DNA samples from Frank James, who allegedly wounded 10 people when he opened fire inside a crowded Brooklyn subway car approaching the 36th Street station in Sunset Park.
In court, James is being represented by attorneys Dierdre von Dornum and Mia Eisner Grynberg from Brooklyn Federal Defenders. After James was arrested, Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann, EDNY, ordered him held at the Metropolitan Detention Center federal jail, also in Sunset Park.
Papers filed in Brooklyn Federal Court claimed FBI agents entered James’ cell, questioned him and took multiple swabs of his inner cheeks for DNA. The defense lawyers also suggested the agents didn’t have a search warrant.
“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,” the lawyers wrote. They said the search took place Tuesday.
Later Thursday, prosecutors responded by calling the claims “hyperbole.” They said no questioning took place and that the “DNA was obtained pursuant to a judicially authorized search warrant” that could have been known about in advance.
Authorities say James set off smoke bombs and fired dozens of bullets on April 12 in a train full of morning commuters. Several people were injured, but no one was killed.
James, 62, is charged with a federal terrorism offense that applies to attacks on mass transit systems. Authorities say there’s currently no evidence linking James to terror organizations, leaving his motives murky.
The incident unleashed a manhunt for James after a U-Haul van connected to him was found near the scene. While the search was under way, James phoned police from a McDonald’s in the East Village, saying, in effect, “I understand you’re looking for me.”
When police officers arrived, he was gone, but a 21-year-old Syrian immigrant who works in the neighborhood, Zach Tahhan, recognized James’ image on a security camera and pointed police in his direction.
Authorities later made public the contents of dozens of hate-filled YouTube videos that James had made targeting police, Mayor Eric Adams, and others.
The incident also sparked off criticism of the MTA after it was learned that the security cameras in the 36th Street station weren’t working.
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