December 31

This Day in History

Crime

Dec 31, 1984:

Subway vigilante turns himself in

Bernhard Goetz, the white man dubbed the "subway vigilante" after he shot four young black men on a New York City subway train, turns himself in at a police station in Concord, New Hampshire. Goetz claimed that the men, all of whom had criminal records, were trying to rob him and that he had acted in self-defense. At the time, New York was in the midst of a crime wave and Goetz was viewed by some people as a hero, an ordinary citizen fighting back against his attackers.

The shooting occurred on the afternoon of December 22, 1984, when Goetz (1947- ), a Queens, New York, native who owned an electronics business, boarded a Manhattan subway. Soon after, he pulled out a gun and shot the men, whom he claimed were attempting to rob him. Goetz then fled the scene and drove to Vermont, where he buried the gun. The men all survived the shooting, although one was seriously injured. On December 31, Goetz turned himself in to New Hampshire police.

In 1987, a Manhattan jury acquitted Goetz of criminal assault and attempted murder. However, he was convicted on weapons charges for carrying a gun without a license and spent eight months in jail.

Darrell Cabey, who was left paralyzed and brain damaged by the shooting, filed a lawsuit against Goetz and in April 1996 a Bronx jury awarded him $43 million. Goetz filed for bankruptcy soon afterward. Before and during the trial, Goetz, who expressed no remorse for his actions, made inflammatory statements, saying he had done a public service by shooting the men and society would be better off if their mothers had aborted them.

In the decades following the shooting, Goetz, who remains a controversial figure, has been a candidate for mayor of New York and an advocate for vegetarianism.

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