Kelly Defends Fatal Subway Slash Tactics

Police commissioner says authorities had no choice

By Emily Feldman and Victoria Cavaliere
|  Monday, Nov 23, 2009  |  Updated 5:19 PM EDT
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Keep Train Doors Locked?

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Better make sure you're not taking up two seats.

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Police Commissioner Ray Kelly Monday defended the NYPD's decision to keep passengers in the same subway car with a man who stabbed another passenger  -- saying the alternative was to potentially let the perp escape the scene.

Kelly said the NYPD took the right steps early Saturday morning  to contain Gerardo Sanchez, a Bronx man accused of stabbing Dwight Johnson to death over a subway seat on the D train.

"They [the passengers] pulled the alarm, they stopped the train between stations. As a result of that, when the train pulled into the station, officers were there, they got on the train and arrested the individual," Kelly said.

The decision to keep all of the train doors locked except one while police took a few additional minutes to arrest the alleged killer  as about 30 horrified passengers looked on was met with questions about police policy and procedure.

Kelly repeated that cops made the right decision and followed proper procedure -- noting that the alleged perp had pried open the doors of the northbound D train somewhere between 50th and 53rd Street to drop the murder weapon. He was taken into custody at the 7th Avenue station.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the train was immediately met by police -- and he dismissed questions that police left passengers locked in the subway car with a murderer -- again noting that a passenger had pulled the emergency cord that had briefly stopped the train in the tunnel.  He said police boarded the train through one open door in the front as soon as it was in the station.

 "Opening all doors and letting everybody run in every direction and having a murderer back out on the streets doesn't make a lot of sense to me," he said.

"Our subways are very, very safe.  "There's 5.2 million people who ride the subway everyday with a very, very low rate of crime.  We can't have a police officer everyplace," Bloomberg said.

Kelly and Bloomberg also stressed that the emergency cord on the subway shouldn't be pulled in cases of crime because it does trap the train in the station.

The slashing, which happened early Saturday, was apparently spurred by a dispute over a seat that was being protected by Dwight Johnson of Brooklyn, a germophobe who had a habit of putting a bag next to him to prevent anyone from sitting too close,   according to the New York Post.

Sanchez approached the victim who was taking up a second seat with his bag, and instructed him to make room, despite there being many other seats available in the car.

"No, I want this seat," the attacker said, according to a witness interviewed by the Post.

Johnson obliged, removing his bag, but Sanchez wasn't satisfied.

"You think I'm scared of you? I'm not scared of you!" Sanchez shouted, according to the witness.

Seconds later, Sanchez plunged a knife into Johnson's neck, ending the man's life in front of about 30 passengers.

One witness pulled the emergency brake and that's when Sanchez used the opportunity to pry open the subway doors and drop the knife onto the tracks.

He mumbled "I want to go home, I gotta go home, I gotta go home," the witness said.

It took several minutes for the subway to begin moving again, as the motorman radioed to police. When police boarded the train, Johnson was already dead, sitting up with his eyes open. Sanchez was standing over his bloody victim, police said.

Johnson, who allegedly had trouble staying on his medication for his phobia, was identified by his estranged family on Sunday. Those who knew him described him as an ill man.

"He didn't like people to sit next to him," Phenix Hall, a volunteer who met Johnson at a soup kitchen years ago told the Daily News. "Dwight was famous for placing his bag on the seat besides him." 

Family members of the alleged killer say his behavior seemed out-of-character.

"He's a family man. He's not a beast," Louis Sanchez, Gerardo's brother told the Daily News.  He said his brother, who worked as an exterminator, recently fell two stories while on the job and had been taking a lot of pain medication since then.

Sanchez was charged with murder and criminal possession of a weapon. He pleaded not guilty yesterday and is being held without bail.

He said the decision was made to avoid the possibility of the suspect getting away by opening all the subway doors at once, so the doors were opened to just one car so that police could enter the train without anyone escaping.

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