NYC Truck Attacker Fights to Exclude Hospital Interview

MANHATTAN (CN) — The Uzbek man whose truck attack on a picturesque Manhattan bike path killed eight appeared in court Thursday as FBI agents testified about their all-night interrogation with him from a hospital bedside.

Scheduled to go on trial in April, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov has moved to exclude the statement he gave authorities from the intensive care unit at Bellevue Hospital as involuntary.

Law enforcement examine the scene on Nov. 1, 2017, near the World Trade Center memorial where one day earlier a Home Depot truck mowed down bicyclists and pedestrians. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Saipov claims that he had not been informed of his Miranda rights and that he did not fully understand the consequences of giving the interview.

Contesting that image, however, Joanna Maroudas, a special agent and member of the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, testified Thursday that Saipov’s state at the time of the interview as “talkative, alert, very calm.”

He never seemed confused, she said in the four-hour hearing, which will pick back up Friday.

Maroudas said she and an FBI detective on the task force, Richard Paugh, walked into Bellevue at around 5 p.m., roughly two hours after the attack on Oct. 31, 2017. Saipov had been shot at the scene by NYPD officer Ryan Nash and underwent surgery for the injury.

As the suspect recovered from sedation and hospital staff removed his breathing tube, Maroudas and Paugh waited nearly seven hours to speak to him.

During the ensuing interrogation, which wrapped up at 9 a.m. the next day after 8 1/2 hours, Maroudas said she and Paugh allowed breaks so Saipov could pray and receive medical attention, and to touch base with their superiors.

“We were trying to develop as much information as we could,” Maroudas said.

Sylvie Levine of the Federal Defenders asked Maroudas whether she’d known that Saipov was receiving sedation medicine through 11:15 that night, about a half hour before the interrogation began. Maroudas admitted Thursday she did not know how much time passed between Saipov’s last sedation dose and their interview.

Maroudas said Saipov was subjected to what’s called a Quarles public safety interview, an exception to Miranda law that allows law enforcement to question suspects about ongoing threats to public safety before reading them their rights.

Both Maroudas and Paugh said they reported to work at 7 and 6 a.m., respectively, on Oct. 31, meaning 27 hours had passed by the time they wrapped up their interview of Saipov.

Maroudas relied on handwritten notes during the interview, which she later typed into a summary per FBI protocol, she said.

There was a linguist available and waiting outside the hospital room, but Maroudas said did not call her in to translate or even to ask Saipov in Uzbek whether he needed a translator because she had been satisfied by Saipov’s nod that he understood her.

She testified she had also asked him if he spoke English, but did not write that in her notes. Because Saipov was wearing what she called a “hospital mitten,” a bandage on his hand that looked like an oven mitt, Maroudas said did not have him sign forms or write by hand.

A photograph of Saipov taken by law enforcement around 6 or 7 p.m. the day of the attack show him lying shirtless, flat on his back in a hospital bed. A medical device wraps around his neck and he has a breathing tube. His left hand is cuffed to the bed.

Levine pressed Maroudas on why she had not taken video or audio recording of the interviews, and instead relied solely on handwritten notes scribbled in no chronological order.

“It’s against FBI policy to record national security interviews,” Maroudas said on the stand Thursday. “I do not know whose decision it was — it was not my decision.”

U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick presided. Saipov’s defense will resume its cross-examination of Paugh Friday morning at 9 a.m.

Saipov, who came to the U.S. from his native Uzbekistan in 2010, injured 11 and killed eight in the attack along Manhattan’s West Side Highway.

Several of the 28 federal charges he faces carry a possible death penalty. Saipov has pleaded not guilty.

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