Willie Groomes, a retired correction officer who shot and killed 32-year-old Gilbert Drogheo in Brooklyn’s Borough Hall subway station in March, will not be indicted in the shooting, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced in a statement this evening.
“Following a full and fair investigation into the fatal shooting of Gilbert Drogheo inside the Borough Hall subway station on March 10, 2015 by retired Corrections Officer William Groomes, I have determined that criminal charges are not warranted in this matter,” Thompson’s statement read. “Based on interviews of multiple eyewitnesses to the events leading up to the shooting, our review of video tapes of the shooting itself and other evidence, I have decided not to put this case into the grand jury and will not bring criminal charges against Mr. Groomes. While the death of this young man was indeed tragic, we cannot prove any charge of homicide beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“We’re just so devestated right now. For Ken Thompson to say that he doesn’t think a crime was committed—[Groomes] killed him,” Elizabeth Arroyo, Drogheo’s girlfriend, told Gawker. “We really, really didn’t expect this outcome.”
Groomes, 69, shot Drogheo the evening of March 10 after the men had an argument on a rush-hour Brooklyn-bound 4 train. Bystander video shows Groomes descending a staircase inside the Borough Hall station as a man shouted, “Don’t shoot him.” Groomes then ascended to the station’s mezzanine level and approached Drogheo, who was unarmed and standing near the top of the staircase. Groomes appeared to punch Drogheo (above) in the face, and the two men grappled with each other for several seconds, before the sound of a gunshot can be heard.
[There was a video here]
Witnesses have said that the conflict between Drogheo and Groomes began after the older man boarded the train at the Bowling Green station. One witness told the New York Daily News that Drogheo and his coworker, 28-year-old Joscelyn Evering, were “talking mad trash” to Groomes as he entered; Drogheo or Evering reportedly addressed Groomes using the word “nigger.” (Drogheo is Hispanic and Evering and Groomes are black.) The Daily News’ witness said that Groomes told the younger men, “I’m not your nigger. I’m not your boy.”
According to multiple reports, Drogheo and Evering appeared to be drunk during the confrontation. Groomes told investigators that Evering hit him in the temple and pushed him into a subway seat, DNAinfo reported at the time. According to DNAinfo’s sources, Groomes drew his gun while inside the crowded train car, just before Drogheo and Evering exited at Borough Hall and Groomes followed them. “At some point Drogheo put [Groomes] in a bear hug on the platform,” DNAinfo reported, before the “former guard managed to free himself and Drogheo fled up a nearby staircase.” By the time the bystander video picks up the two men, Grooms and Drogheo are some distance apart and not actively tussling.
Groomes told investigators that he intended to arrest Drogheo and Evering. Groomes is granted no special power to make arrests under the law as an ex-CO, and any arrest he made would be subject to New York’s law governing citizen’s arrests. The law allows an ordinary citizen to use physical force, “other than deadly physical force” when “he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to effect an arrest or to prevent the escape from custody of a person” who may have committed a crime. A citizen is permitted to use deadly physical force only when defending against “imminent use of deadly physical force,” or when it is necessary to detain a person who was committed manslaughter, murder, robbery, “forcible rape,” or “forcible criminal sexual act.” New York is not a “stand your ground” state, meaning that a person has a duty to retreat before using deadly force, even if they’re under threat of deadly force themselves.
Drogheo is survived by a young daughter.
[Photo via Elizabeth Arroyo]