Manslaughter charges dismissed against man who defended himself on subway

AP Photo/William Mathis

Well this is certainly interesting. A man who who says he defended himself from a deranged homeless person on a New York subway train has had manslaughter charges against him dropped. You may be thinking this is a story about Daniel Penny, the man who put a deranged homeless man in a chokehold, but no I’m talking about a different case involving Jordan Williams.


Williams stabbed a man on the train earlier this month:

Jordan Williams’ attorney, Jason Goldman, said in court his client was traveling with his girlfriend when Ouedraogo got on the train. Goldman says passenger video he’s seen shows Ouedraogo’s behavior.

“The victim was menacing people, as all of us have probably seen on the subway, erratic, deranged, crazy and in many people’s faces before he even encounters my client,” Goldman said.

The attorney said Ouedraogo approached Jordan Williams’ girlfriend and when Williams told him to “chill out” and get away, allegedly, the victim kept harassing the girlfriend, including ripping out her earring.

Goldman said Ouedraogo, who was unarmed, lunged at Jordan Williams and punched him, and that’s when the accused removed a folding knife and stabbed Ouedraogo in the chest.

That story is accurate but doesn’t give the full flavor of how unhinged Ouedraogo was on the train:

Ouedraogo, 36, allegedly began harassing straphangers aboard the train car, and yelled that he was going to “erase someone.”

Ouedraogo – who served time in state prison in 2009 for an attempted robbery in Queens — allegedly approached Williams’ girlfriend and snapped at her, “Want to f–k?”

Ouedraogo stumbled off the train and died. Williams and his girlfriend stayed on the train and were arrested a stop or two later. He was charged with manslaughter and spent a night in jail but a judge refused to hold him beyond that, noting that he was a high school graduate with no record and a steady job at FedEx. Today, about a week after Williams told his story on Good Day New York, charges against have been dropped.


A grand jury declined to indict 20-year-old Jordan Williams, who had been charged with manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon in the June 13 melee that left Devictor Ouedraogo dead.

His self-defense claim was bolstered by video footage presented to the grand jury, which allegedly showed Ouedraogo choking Williams and slugging his girlfriend before Williams stabbed him, according to sources.

In addition to the unreleased video of the incident, the sources said witnesses on the train also supported Williams’ claim that he acted in self-defense after he was attacked by Ouedraogo.

I haven’t seen the video of the incident but if the descriptions of it are accurate then this was the right outcome. Williams and his girlfriend were physically attacked which makes this a clear case of self-defense.

Lots of people, myself included, think the same thing should probably happen in the Daniel Penny case. The two cases have a lot of obvious similarities. Both happened on the subway. Both involved deranged men who seemed to be threatening people on the train. Both resulted in the person making the threats winding up dead. But there are at least two significant differences. First, Williams was armed and Penny was not. Second, Williams didn’t stab Ouedraogo until after he’d been physically attacked.

As I’ve said, I think the decision to drop charges against Williams is the right one. In Penny’s case, the issue is less clear cut because while Jordan Neely did make some statements that sounded like threats to harm passengers, he didn’t physically attack Penny. Neely’s record is proof that he had attacked other people in the past so Penny was not wrong to think he was capable of carrying out the threats.


But even if the Penny case is less clear cut, I think the similarity of the two cases shows that New Yorkers are too often being put in positions of feeling threatened on the subway by deranged people. That leaves them having to decide how to deal with these situation when there’s really nowhere to run and no hope police will appear in time to do anything for them. People shouldn’t be forced to risk harming or even killing someone else to protect themselves and others. But I think that is what happened in both of these cases.

And of course there’s a third way in which these cases are different. Daniel Penny is white and Jordan Williams is black. That made Penny the focus of unfair suggestions this case was about race when, so far, there’s no evidence that had anything to do with it.

In his interview last week Jordan Williams said the reason he started carrying a knife is that only a couple weeks earlier he’d been threatened by a woman on the train who put a knife up to his eye. After that incident he decided he wouldn’t go on the train unarmed again. Bottom line: If regular people are forced to protect themselves and others from unhinged and violent strangers, they will do it and sometimes it will end badly. I don’t think the problem is Daniel Penny or Jordan Neely. The problem is far too many crazy people on the NYC subway threatening or harming strangers. Here’s the interview with Williams.


Update: This was just two weeks ago. Unfortunately, this pregnant woman didn’t have a Jordan Williams or a Daniel Penny on hand to protect her.

And a few days after that, three more women were slashed at random on the subway. The attacker in that case was just caught a week ago.

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