Accused Brooklyn subway shooter improperly questioned in cell, attorneys allege

SUNSET PARK, Brooklyn (WABC) -- Federal agents improperly questioned alleged Brooklyn subway shooter Frank R. James this week, directing him to sign certain documents and taking multiple swabs of his DNA, defense attorneys alleged in a court filing Thursday.

James, 62, allegedly set off a smoke grenade on a Manhattan-bound N train approaching 36th Street in Sunset Park on April 12 before opening fire and shooting 10 people in what police called the worst disruption to the morning commute since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Nineteen others were wounded in the chaos the ensued, and James was arrested 30 hours later after calling police on himself.

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On Tuesday, without alerting his lawyers, FBI agents entered his cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, "questioned him, took multiple buccal swabs of his DNA, and directed him to sign certain documents," according to a letter to the court from Mia Eisner-Grynberg and Deirdre von Dornum, of the Federal Defenders of New York.

They said it was 12 days after they were appointed legal counsel by the court, and they received no advance notice of the FBI's intentions.

"Contrary to standard practice, the government committed this intrusion absent advance notice to counsel, depriving us of an opportunity to be heard or to be present," the letter read. "Neither did the government provide subsequent notice to counsel. The agents did not provide Mr. James with a copy of the warrant or a receipt, in violation of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure."

(Video in media player above is from previous coverage)

The attorneys said the government failed to explain why it deviated from standard procedure and only provided a copy of a search warrant when the attorneys asked after the fact.

They accused the government of violating James' constitutional rights.

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The US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, which has charged James with one terror-related count, declined to comment.

Prosecutors were given until early next week to respond.

The defense attorneys said they would seek to suppress whatever statements James made to the agents this past Tuesday and asked the judge to order the government to turn over a copy of the affidavit that served as the basis for the search.

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