On the morning of February 12, 2011, Joe Lozito boarded northbound train No. 3 at New York’s Penn Station. Lozito takes the first seat, located directly behind the train operator’s booth. Several minutes later, two transit officers – Terrance Howell and Tamara Taylor – entered into the operator’s cab alongside the engineer.
According to Joe Lozito’s own account of the events, several minutes after the officers entered into the operator’s booth, a man proceeds to make his way to the front of the train through the middle car door. The man begins to bang frantically on the steel door, which separates the first car from the operator’s booth. The man identifies himself as law enforcement and demands that the officers open the door. The officers look at the man through a small window within the operator’s booth door and shake their heads.
As the man began to walk away from the door, another passenger recognizes him. His picture had been all over the local news the night prior and a city-wide manhunt was underway. The man was Maksim Gelman, a 23-year-old alleged drug dealer and graffiti artist who was wanted for a 28-hour stabbing spree across Brooklyn that had already left four people dead and several more injured. The passenger attempted to alert the transit officers that Gelman was on the train, but found that his attempt to gain the officers’ attention was in vain.
As the other passenger was still attempting to get the attention of the officers, Gelman began to glance down at Lozito. Gelman produced an eight inch kitchen knife from his person and tells Lozito “You’re going to die.” Gelman stabs Lozito in the face and a struggle between the two men ensue. As an avid UFC fan, Lozito uses techniques he picked up watching the fights in an attempt to subdue Gelman. Lozito sustained a total of seven stab wounds inflicted by Gelman, mostly to the back of the head, as the transit authorities watched from the operator’s booth.
Covered in blood, Lozito still manages to pin Gelman and successfully disarms him. Once pinned, the officers exit the operator’s booth. Officer Howell tells Lozito that it’s alright to get up and takes Gelmen into custody. Lozito was a hero, but officers told a much different story of what happened that morning on train No. 3.
According to Howell’s own affidavit, it was Howell who had tackled and subdued Gelman and that Gelman had not pounded on the operator’s booth door until after he had already attacked Lozito. A story published in The Washington Post on Feb. 12, 2011 writes:
“The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, said that moments later, Mr. Gelman pounded on the door of the motorman’s compartment, identifying himself as a police officer and demanding entry. Two transit officers were in the compartment with the motorman, scanning the tracks ahead for Mr. Gelman.
They opened the door, saw the fugitive with his knife and a man bleeding on the floor, and leapt out. In the ensuing fight, Officers Terrance Howell and Tamara Taylor subdued, disarmed and handcuffed Mr. Gelman, with help from an off-duty detective, Marcelo Razzo. Mr. Lozito was taken from the train at 40th Street and Seventh Avenue to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he was reported in stable condition.”
Another story, this time published in USA Today, also relies on Officer Howell’s version of the events – that as soon as he realized Gelman had attacked a passenger on the train he leapt into action. The author writes:
“Officers were in the driver’s compartment of the train after hearing reports that Gelman might be on board. Gelman made his way up to the driver’s door and pounded on it, “claiming that he was the police,” Kelly said.
One of the officers threw open the door and wrestled Gelman to the ground, knocking the knife from his hand, Kelly said.
He was taken into custody from the train at Times Square. None of Gelman’s relatives could be reached for comment Saturday.”
So what was the real story? Was it Lozito who, using mixed martial art style fighting moves he had picked up on television, was able to subdue Gelman and the officers only intervened after the attack was over? Or was it Officer Howell who had noticed Lozito bleeding on the subway floor after Gelman pounded on the door and promptly apprehended the suspect?
Lozito, still recovering from the stab wounds sustained during the altercation at a local hospital, was stunned to hear the media’s account of the events that unfolded on the morning of February 11, 2011. Not only was Officer Howell claiming to have tackled and disarmed the suspect himself, but he was also alleging that he did not stand by and watch as Gelman attacked Lozito through the comfort of the operator’s booth window.
In addition to Lozito’s claim that officers refused to intervene during the attack, he also alleged that he was left to sit on the train as he bled profusely from his injuries. Had it not been for another passenger’s attempts to administer first aid to Lozito and yelling for the engineer to get the train moving immediately, Lozito believes he would have died that day.
Later that week, Lozito was told he would have to provide his testimony to the grand jury. Following him on the stand would be Officer Howell.
Lozito gave his testimony and then stuck around to hear what Howell’s version of the events would be. Howell admitted that he had witnessed the attack through the window of the operator’s booth door. He was preparing to intervene but, fearing that Gelman had a gun, he decided to hide instead. Livid with Officer Howell’s refusal to protect a citizen during a knife attack, Lozito decided to take the matter before a judge.
In the lawsuit Lorzito filed against the city, he claims that it was the officer’s duty to have recognized Gelman, due to the city-wide manhunt that was already underway, and that the officer should have reacted more quickly once the attack began. The suit remained pending for over a year, but ultimately a judge decided to have the case thrown out.
The judge ruled that it was not the police department’s duty to provide any protection for Lorzito or any other passenger on the train that day. The city’s defense lawyer, David Santoro, says that decision was made because there is well-established law removing liability from police to protect citizens.
Lorzito feels that the judge’s decision was in error. In an interview with The New York Post Lorzito says, “If the cop is on the train, and I get robbed by a stranger, of course, the cop can’t be clairvoyant, but when they’re looking for Maksim Gelman, and Maksim Gelman bangs on the door and says, ‘Let me in, I’m a cop’ and all you say is: ‘No, you’re not?’ ”
Gelman was later sentenced to 200 consecutive years for the four people murdered during his 28-hour stabbing spree. Officer Terrance Howell never received any disciplinary action against him for his failure to act upon the subway attack against Lorzito. As for Lorzito, although his case may have been thrown out of court, he still wants his story to be heard. Lorzito wants the public to know that the common assumption that it is law enforcement’s duty to protect citizens from harm is completely false.