New York subway shooting suspect to remain in jail, receive psychiatric evaluation

A criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors on Wednesday in US District Court in Brooklyn charged James with committing a terrorist or other violent attack against a mass transportation system.

 Law enforcement officers and firefighters work near the scene of a shooting at a subway station in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, US, April 12, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)
Law enforcement officers and firefighters work near the scene of a shooting at a subway station in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, US, April 12, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)

A US federal judge ordered the man accused of this week's mass shooting in a New York City subway car to remain in custody on Thursday after prosecutors said his "terrifying" attack disrupted in the city in a way not seen in two decades.

Frank James, 62, is accused of injuring 23 people in the attack and faces a federal charge of violently attacking a mass transit system. He was represented by two public defenders in his appearance at the US District Court in Brooklyn who requested that he undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

"The defendant terrifyingly opened fire on passengers in a crowded subway train, interrupting their morning commute in a way this city hasn't seen in more than 20 years," Sara Winik, a federal prosecutor, told the court.

James, dressed in beige jail clothes, spoke only briefly to say he understood the charges.

US Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann ordered James to be held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, the main jail for defendants awaiting federal trial in New York City, and agreed to the evaluation request by his lawyers.

A New York Police Officer of the anti terrorism unit speaks with a MTA worker as he patrols the 36th St. subway station, a day after a shooting incident took place in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, US, April 13, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/EDUARDO MUNOZ)A New York Police Officer of the anti terrorism unit speaks with a MTA worker as he patrols the 36th St. subway station, a day after a shooting incident took place in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, US, April 13, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/EDUARDO MUNOZ)

Authorities have offered no possible motive for the attack.

Investigators saying they are looking at lengthy videos James apparently recorded and posted to YouTube, which included bigoted rants and comments on New York City's mayor, homelessness and the subway system. The account was taken down Wednesday for violating the online video platform's "community guidelines," YouTube said.

A criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors charged James with a single count of committing a terrorist or other violent attack against a mass transportation system, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

James was arrested on Wednesday afternoon on a street in lower Manhattan about five miles (8 km) from the scene of Tuesday morning's attack, capping a 30-hour manhunt for the lone suspect. His lawyers told reporters after the hearing that James himself had called the New York Police Department's tipline to turn himself in after seeing his photograph in the news.

"He called 'Crime Stoppers' to help," Mia Eisner-Grynberg, a lawyer from the Federal Defenders of New York, told reporters. "He told them where he was." Earlier news reports said James placed the call from a McDonald's restaurant in the East Village.

She called the attack a tragedy, which unfolded during the morning rush-hour as the Manhattan-bound N train was pulling into the 36th Street subway station in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood.

Police said 10 people were shot, five of them hospitalized in critical but stable condition. Another 13 people were injured by the smoke canisters the attacker set off before shooting or in the stampede of terrified passengers pouring out of the subway car onto the platform. All were expected to survive.

The attacker apparently followed the panicked passengers into the other train across the platform, riding it one stop towards Manhattan, investigators said.

Surveillance video shows James emerging one station north at 8:40 a.m., about 14 minutes after the attack. An image of him included in the complaint shows him in a dark outfit and no longer wearing the fluorescent orange jacket and yellow helmet worn in the attack.

Investigators said they established James as a suspect after finding on the platform a credit card in his name and the keys to a U-Haul van that he had rented and left parked several blocks away.

Authorities at the scene also recovered the Glock 9 mm semi-automatic handgun used in the attack, along with three extended-ammunition magazines, a torch, a hatchet, a bag of fireworks and a container of gasoline, according to police and court documents.

The next day, police arrested James without incident, according to officials.

James is a Bronx native with recent addresses in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. He had nine prior arrests in New York and three in New Jersey, according to the New York Police Department.

In addition to items found at the subway station, searches of James' apartment and a storage locker in Philadelphia uncovered more handgun and rifle magazines, ammunition, a Taser and a pistol barrel attachment for a silencer, the FBI said.