Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson announced last week that he would not seek to file charges against 69-year-0ld Willie Groomes, who fatally shot 32-year-old Gilbert Drogheo in the Borough Hall subway station on March 10. Thompson’s office declined to elaborate on its reasoning beyond a brief statement saying, “While the death of this young man was indeed tragic, we cannot prove any charge of homicide beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The alternative to homicide would be that Groomes shot Drogheo in self-defense. But the widely circulated bystander video of the fatal shooting suggests otherwise, as does an examination of the layout of the subway station. New York state law only allows the use of lethal physical force in response to an imminent deadly threat, or to stop a serious crime in progress. And if you believe you are being threatened, you must first try to remove yourself from danger.
Neither condition appears to apply to the final encounter between the two men. The original physical confrontation between Groomes and Drogheo, on a Brooklyn-bound 4 train, had ended well before Groomes fired his gun. Drogheo wasn’t carrying a weapon. The two moved separately, and at times on different paths, through the station—up to a mezzanine, down to the opposite platform, and up to a mezzanine again.
Along the way, Groomes would have had multiple exit options to separate himself from the younger man. He did not take them.
According to witness testimony, Groomes exited a train at the Brooklyn-bound platform with his .380 Ruger drawn and loaded, following Drogheo and Joscelyn Evering, Drogheo’s coworker, who had also taken part in the altercation. Maria Sumina, one witness, told Gawker that Groomes looked angry as he exited, “like a guy that was about to shoot a motherfucker.”
|Willie Groomes likely ascended the staircase shown at the top left before turning right down the mezzanine. The passageway he would have passed leads to two turnstiles and a staircase to the street.|
The video begins on the mezzanine, as Groomes descends a set of stairs to the Manhattan-bound platform. Groomes’ most likely route from the Brooklyn-bound platform to the mezzanine staircase where the video begins would have taken him up a staircase on the Brooklyn-bound side and past a passageway that leads to two turnstiles and eventually to the street.
It’s also possible that he crossed the tracks at a second mezzanine—a route that also would have taken him past an exit.
Before descending the staircase on the Manhattan-bound side, Groomes would have passed two full-height turnstiles and an emergency door at the end of the mezzanine. (Later in the video, these turnstiles form the backdrop of the shooting).
As Groomes nears the bottom of the stairs, a man shouts “Don’t shoot him...put that gun away, OG.” Drogheo, down on the platform, can be seen running toward the bottom of the video’s frame. Where Drogheo went next is not shown, but because he appears on the mezzanine seconds later, he most likely went up the staircase on the opposite side of the same mezzanine, which sits about 20 steps away.
|On one end of the Manhattan-bound platform sits a passageway to R, 2, and 3 Train tracks; at the other, a staircase to an exit and an NYPD officer's booth.|
Either way, at the foot of the stairs, Groomes once again had several chances to exit. Ahead of him was a passageway to the R, 2, and 3 Train platforms; in the opposite direction, beyond the staircase that Drogheo evidently used, was the aforementioned second mezzanine, with its own two staircases; and beyond that second mezzanine were an exit at Court and Joralemon Streets and an NYPD officer’s booth. Instead of taking any of these chances to flee, Groomes walked back up the same stairs he’d just walked down, leading him straight to the fatal confrontation with Drogheo.
|Groomes' view would have looked like this before he ascended the stairs to meet Drogheo. Just beyond the stairs that Drogheo ascended is a staircase to a separate mezzanine.|
Groomes’ path through the station, along with testimony that he’d drawn and loaded his gun while still on the train, make it difficult to avoid the conclusion that he had no interest in escaping the Borough Hall station that night. Willie Groomes wasn’t fleeing from Gilbert Drogheo in the moments before his gun went off. He was pursuing him.