Sayfullo Saipov may have been under FBI surveillance before his 2017 Halloween terror truck attack on a West Side bike path, defense lawyers suggested Friday in a Manhattan federal court motion seeking to suppress incriminating statements Saipov made after his arrest.
The government is seeking the death penalty in the case. The disclosure about prior monitoring came in a section of the motion describing Saipov’s interrogation by FBI agents while he was hospitalized and heavily sedated immediately after the attack that killed eight.
“Although it is impossible to know from the face of their [report] what specific questions [the agents] asked, it is clear they interrogated Mr. Saipov about matters and contacts that overlap with surreptitious FBI surveillance of Mr. Saipov’s communications,” Saipov’s lawyers said.
That sentence was followed by several blacked-out lines, and the filing did not make it clear whether Saipov had been the target of surveillance or had been picked up on surveillance of someone else. But the defense lawyers said they only learned the information last month.
“We are still waiting for more information from the government about the nature and basis of the wiretaps,” they said after the blacked-out lines, adding “there is a colorable basis to believe the agents derived their questions from information the FBI obtained through this monitoring.”
David Patton, the federal defender leading Saipov’s defense team, did not respond to an email seeking elaboration on the claim. A spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman declined to comment.
The government has alleged that after his attack in a rented truck, Saipov, 30, of Paterson, New Jersey, a lawful permanent resident from Uzbekistan, said he was inspired by the Islamic State and launched his attack while people were out on Halloween to inflict maximum casualties.
In the motion Friday, Saipov’s legal team asked for incriminating statements he made to be suppressed because he was heavily medicated and “in a stupor” when he was questioned — first without Miranda warnings under a “public safety” exception, and later after he was advised of his rights.
Saipov was operated on for gunshot wounds at Bellevue Hospital immediately after his capture, intubated and sedated with opioid painkillers and benzodiazepine, and then endured an all-night interrogation that began just 28 minutes after his breathing tube was removed.
“Mr. Saipov’s answers to the agents’ relentless questioning were not the product of his free and rational choice,” said the motion.
U.S. District Judge Vincent Broderick has scheduled Saipov’s trial for October 2019.