A Bronx jury Tuesday ordered Bernhard Goetz, the so-called subway vigilante, to pay $43 million in damages to one of the four black youths he shot on a Manhattan subway car 12 years ago.
The jury’s decision was a stunning reversal for the 48-year-old Goetz, who was acquitted of attempted murder nine years ago in the same shooting and become a national symbol of urban rage and frustration.
But this time around - in a civil as opposed to a criminal trial, before a largely black jury instead of a largely white one and at a time when crime here is on the downswing as opposed to the upswing - the six-person jury swiftly ruled against Goetz.
It found that Goetz acted “recklessly” and “outrageously” in his attack on Darrell Cabey, now 30, who was left brain damaged and paralyzed from the chest down by one of Goetz’s bullets.
The verdict itself is largely symbolic, since Goetz is unlikely to be able to pay more than a token amount of the $18 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages the jury ordered. Goetz is a self-employed electronics consultant and, according to court papers, makes less than $20,000 a year. Under New York law, the court can garnish no more than 10 percent of his wages over the next 20 years.
The Goetz case arose from a incident on a downtown Manhattan express train in December 1984.
Shortly after boarding the train, Goetz was confronted by four black teenagers, who asked him for $5. They said later they were panhandling. He said he thought he was about to be mugged, and in response drew an unlicensed handgun, shooting all four. As Cabey lay on the ground Goetz stood over him and said, “You don’t look too bad. Here’s another,” and fired one more time.
Tuesday’s verdict resulted from a civil suit filed by Cabey after Goetz was acquitted of the attempted murder charges in 1987, though found guilty of illegally possessing a gun. He served just over eight months.
The jury ruled Tuesday that Goetz intended to shoot Cabey, that his actions were “shocking,” “outrageous” and “reckless,” and that Cabey was entitled to $2.2 million in damages for his pain and suffering, $15.8 million for future pain and suffering and $25 million in compensatory damages.
This trial generated nothing close to the massive public interest and controversy of its predecessor nine years ago. Back then, Goetz was defended by one of the city’s bestknown criminal attorneys.
Word of his acquittal by an all-white jury caused people to dance in the streets in Goetz’s downtown Manhattan neighborhood.