New York City Man Pleads Not Guilty in Subway Push Death

A New York man pleaded not guilty to charges that he pushed another man to his death on the tracks of a subway station in Manhattan, the first of two such incidents last month.

Naeem Davis, 30, entered the plea today during a hearing before New York State Supreme Court Justice Bonnie Wittner in Manhattan. Davis was indicted by a grand jury on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter and faces life in prison if convicted.

Davis is accused of pushing 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han of Queens onto the tracks at the station at 49th Street and Seventh Avenue on Dec. 3, according to court documents and statements from police. Han was struck by a train entering the station and killed. Davis was arrested the next day.

Erika Menendez, 31, was indicted yesterday on one count of second-degree murder as a hate crime and two counts of second-degree murder for allegedly pushing a 46-year-old man to his death last month in front of a subway train in Queens, that borough’s district attorney, Richard Brown, said.

Menendez was found mentally fit to stand trial following a psychiatric evaluation, Brown said yesterday. She also faces life in prison if convicted.

Davis, who is being held without bail, is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 25.

Street Vendors

He told police he was working for several street vendors the day of the incident and was on his way downtown to buy merchandise when he saw an Asian man yelling near the clerk’s booth, according to court filings in the case.

Davis told detectives he had entered the station when the man jumped the turnstiles, hit him with his shoulder and began yelling and cursing and threatening to kill him, according to the court filings.

Davis told police he pushed the man toward the tracks after he grabbed his shirt and left arm and watched as the man “rolled like a bowling ball” and was struck by the train, according to the court filings.

Davis said he left the station, and he told detectives he blamed himself, should have known better and “shouldn’t have let this happen,” according to the court filings. Davis told police he slept overnight near the station in a van belonging to one of the vendors before he was apprehended the next day.

Earlier Incident

Davis said he was defending himself and wasn’t trying to hurt the man, according to the court filings. He said he was still upset over an incident two days earlier when another person threw away his boots, according to the filings.

Davis told police he came to the U.S. from Sierra Leone in 1989 and attended college in Pennsylvania, where he got a degree in applied science, according to the court filings. He said he tried to become a state trooper in Pennsylvania and failed because he was arrested for owning a potato gun, according to the filings. He said he has been in the New York area since 2007 and has no family in the city.

Davis told investigators he works as a dishwasher at a waterfront restaurant overnight and helps street vendors during the day by setting up stands, selling merchandise and picking up new goods, according to the court documents.

The suspect’s attorney, Stephen Pokart, told reporters after today’s hearing that Han initiated the contact, went after Davis and followed him down the platform. Pokart said he’s seeking witnesses to help shed light on what happened that day.

‘Don’t Know’

“We don’t know why Mr. Han did that,” Pokart said.

Pokart said he’s afraid the case may prompt racial stereotypes given the initial description of the man who pushed Han onto the platform as a 6-foot (1.8-meter), 200-pound (91-kilogram) black man with dreadlocks, as opposed to Davis: a 5-foot, 9-inch 140-pound black man who says he has never had dreadlocks.

“We don’t believe Mr. Davis is a murderer,” Pokart said. “We don’t think he’s an evil person.”

New York has the busiest U.S. subway system, with about 5.7 million daily passengers, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the network.

The MTA has increased the number of audio announcements in stations warning riders to stay back from the edge of the platform after the incidents, and it’s considering other measures to improve safety, said Deirdre Parker, a spokeswoman for the agency. A total of 141 people were stuck by subway trains last year, 55 of whom died, she said.

Slow Down

The Transportation Workers Union Local 100 has urged train operators to slow down, blow their horns and proceed with caution, telling drivers to “enter every station as if there is a pair of yellow lanterns at the entrance,” according to a flyer posted on the union’s website.

The union is asking operators to slow down to 10 miles per hour while entering stations, well below the 30 mph that is allowed, said Charles Seaton, a spokesman for the MTA. Such a cut in speed would lead to overcrowded trains and stations and could cause even more hazardous conditions, Seaton said.

“We’ve seen no indication” that operators are slowing down upon entering stations,” Seaton said.

The case is New York v. Davis, 05549-2012, New York state Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

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