Fitz Fullerton, 55, a livery-cab driver in Brooklyn, was stabbed in his face, hand and neck early Saturday by a man later said to be Maksim Gelman
He sat in the emergency room at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, thankful he was alive after being ambushed by a stranger who seemed set on killing him.
The unprovoked knife attack left Fitz Fullerton with gashes to his face, hand and neck, requiring dozens of stitches. He did not know then that his attacker was believed to be Maksim Gelman, a man in the midst of a 28-hour rampage that had already left four people dead.
Mr. Fullerton, a livery-cab driver, also did not know something else: The police officers at the hospital had come not merely to interview him, but to put him behind bars.
“They locked me up while they were stitching me up,” Mr. Fullerton, 55, said. He said the officers handcuffed and shackled him, and told him there was a warrant for his arrest stemming from an “unpaid ticket” from 2001.
Mr. Fullerton was eventually released and taken to a different precinct station house, where Mr. Gelman was being held, and asked to identify him in a lineup. But he said he could not help feeling shaken at the whirlwind chain of events that left him in a holding cell, only hours after being stabbed.
“I believed a police officer was supposed to protect you,” Mr. Fullerton said. “Someone tried to kill me and I didn’t call the police for them to arrest me; I called them to protect me.”
The police on Monday night offered a different account of what had happened and said proper procedures had been followed.
Mr. Fullerton had been driving his Lincoln Town Car in Crown Heights, working the night shift. About 12:45 a.m. on Saturday, he recalled, a man forced his way into his car, even though Mr. Fullerton already had a passenger.
The passenger, a woman, jumped out of the car, as the man screamed out commands and held a knife to Mr. Fullerton’s neck, telling him, “I’m going to murder you now.”
Mr. Fullerton remembered struggling for his life, enduring wounds even as he kept the car in gear, until it struck a parked van. He suffered deep gashes in his hand and a stab wound that went “right through my jaw,” he said. “I had to try to save myself.”
After the crash, Mr. Gelman fled on foot, the police said, and Mr. Fullerton called 911. He ended up at Brookdale Hospital, where he expected to be asked questions by the police, but he said he thought they would be restricted to the stabbing. “They asked me if I owe child support, if I owe this, if I owe that,” Mr. Fullerton said.
Police officials confirmed that Mr. Fullerton was placed in handcuffs and shackles at the hospital when officers learned of the existing warrant, which, according to Deputy Inspector Kim Royster, a police spokeswoman, “was from 2001, Family Court.”
“He came to us injured, and we rendered the necessary aid,” she added. “He was receiving medical attention at the hospital. During the time, we determined that he had an outstanding warrant. Once that was communicated to the officer, our policy is to secure that person, and that’s what the officer did.”
Mr. Fullerton’s personal life was not unblemished; he admitted to several arrests, but said they were closed cases.
The Brooklyn district attorney’s office confirmed that Mr. Fullerton had been arrested in July 1989 for criminal possession of a weapon and theft of services, and in August 2010 for criminal possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of marijuana. Both cases have been closed. According to a law-enforcement official, Mr. Fullerton had been arrested four times since 2005.
Mr. Fullerton said he explained to an officer on Saturday that he did have one outstanding parking summons, but that it was only a few months old, from a double-parking violation on his block. He said he asked for more information about the 2001 summons, but was not given any.
Mr. Fullerton said that about 7 a.m. on Saturday, he was taken to a communal holding cell at the 73rd Precinct station house. His wounds still fresh and painful, he said he had to stand for most of what he said was a 10-hour detention because of limited space on the cell’s lone bench. Close to a dozen men were held in the cramped space, he said.
Mr. Fullerton said that his repeated requests for pain medication were not granted and that he received no food or drink until he was given a cup of tea in the late afternoon. “So, I started a quarrel,” he recalled. “I said, ‘No, I don’t owe a ticket, and if I do owe a ticket, someone tried to kill me!’ ”
Mr. Fullerton said he was eventually taken to a different cell, by himself, about 5 p.m. “Don’t worry,” a detective said, according to Mr. Fullerton. “We’re going to do away with the warrant.”
On Monday night, the police offered this account:
Inspector Royster said Mr. Fullerton was taken to the 73rd Precinct station about 9 a.m., not 7 a.m., as he had claimed. The handcuffs and shackles were removed, and he was then placed in a holding cell “for about an hour,” Inspector Royster said. Then he was taken to the detective squad to answer questions about the investigation into the rampage. He was offered something to eat and drink at that point, she said.
After Mr. Fullerton was taken home to shower, about 5 p.m., he was taken to the 61st Precinct station to look at a lineup, she said. He left at 10 p.m., she said.
Earl S. Ward, a civil rights and criminal lawyer whom Mr. Fullerton contacted on Monday, said the department’s actions suggested to him that “there probably was no warrant.” He said he was contemplating legal action.
Inspector Royster said that the warrant was still active, but that Family Court was not open, and that Mr. Fullerton was released, rather than being held over the weekend. “We refused to hold him there,” she said, “because he was a victim of this crime.”
It was at the 61st Precinct station for the lineup, released from custody, that the gravity of Mr. Fullerton’s encounter with Mr. Gelman finally hit home.
“Even looking at the guy in the lineup,” he said, “the guy just looked crazy.”