Widow Says MTA Workers Shared Photos of Slain Husband

Widow Says MTA Workers Shared Photos of Slain Husband

The morning after her husband was shot and killed while trying to break up a fight on the subway, Jakeba Dockery was sitting at home in Brooklyn, still in shock, when she received a text from a family friend.

Did she know that crime scene photos of her husband had been posted online?

The photos showed Ms. Dockery’s husband, Richard Henderson, lying on the floor of a No. 3 train in a pool of his own blood. They were taken on Jan. 14, after Mr. Henderson was shot in the back and neck, as he waited for emergency medical workers to arrive.

The photos were making the rounds on social media and being circulated through text messages when a longtime neighbor of Mr. Henderson’s received them from his stepfather, who works for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and who did not realize the two men were friends. That neighbor then texted Ms. Dockery to tell her the photos were being shared widely.

Around the same time, Ms. Dockery’s son and daughter opened Instagram and saw the photos of their father.

“I was hurt, just devastated,” Ms. Dockery said in an interview. “Seeing that picture confirmed he’s never coming home again.”

The photos were taken and shared by M.T.A. employees, Ms. Dockery and her lawyers said in a notice of claim they filed against the authority, the City of New York, and New York City Transit, the M.T.A. subsidiary that operates the subway. The notice is the first step in filing a lawsuit against a city agency.

The claim refers to six unidentified “John Does” who Ms. Dockery’s lawyers say are M.T.A. employees who took or shared the photos. Kamika Henderson, Mr. Henderson’s sister, said in an interview that the family had a number of friends and relatives who worked at the M.T.A. and tipped them off to the photos’ chain of custody.

An internal document written by Richard A. Davey, the president of New York City Transit, and included in part in the filing, acknowledged that “individuals may have shared images and video on social media accounts of the aftermath” of the shooting.

The document also suggests that staff members may have shared or tried to share footage of the aftermath of a teenager dying while subway surfing and of an apparent suicide at Grand Central Terminal.

The M.T.A. is conducting an internal investigation to determine whether employees took and shared the photos of Mr. Henderson, Janno Lieber, the authority’s chairman and chief executive, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“If M.T.A. staff were involved in distributing a photo or taking a photo and sending it to others and putting it up on the web, that is kind of a heartless thing,” Mr. Lieber said. “I just want to be clear: That’s not something that any M.T.A. staffers ought to be doing.”

The person who shot Mr. Henderson remains at large two months later. Sanford Rubenstein, one of Ms. Dockery’s lawyers, said he hoped that renewed public interest in the case would help lead to an arrest.

Mr. Henderson was a beloved crossing guard at a private school in Manhattan for more than a decade. A fund-raising page for his family said he loved his job because it reflected his desire to protect those around him.

The page described his life as “a mosaic of selflessness and dedication.” Donors fondly remembered a man they called “Richie,” saying that he had always greeted students and their parents with a smile.

“My husband was a hero,” Ms. Dockery said. “He shouldn’t have a photo taken of him like that, in that state.”

Ms. Dockery’s lawyers have modeled their case after a lawsuit brought in 2020 by Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant. She received $28.85 million from Los Angeles County last year after authorities there were found guilty of taking and sharing photos of her husband and their daughter after they died in a helicopter crash. If Ms. Dockery’s suit goes forward, Mr. Rubenstein said, her lawyers plan to seek the same amount in damages.

A lawyer for Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter died in the same helicopter crash and who sued alongside Ms. Bryant, said that he thought Ms. Dockery had a strong case.

The lawyer, Jerry Jackson, said that while the Los Angeles case was considered one of the first of its kind, similar ones have followed.

“With the overwhelming abundance of cellphones and the prurient interest that everybody has in everybody else’s business, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Mr. Jackson said.

Ms. Dockery’s lawyers claim that by taking photos of Mr. Henderson, M.T.A. officers violated a right to privacy set forth in New York’s civil rights law, which prohibits using the names and photos of living people without their consent. The law appears to apply only to photos used for commercial gain, and it is not immediately clear whether anyone involved profited from the photos of Mr. Henderson.

Mr. Henderson was on his way home when the fight broke out, and was shot as the train neared the Rockaway Avenue stop in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the police said. Ms. Dockery, who described her husband as “a peacemaker,” said she was told he had intervened out of concern for a mother and child sitting nearby.

“For 30 years, I’ve been telling him you cannot intervene in certain situations, but his heart told him different,” she said.

Ms. Dockery said that since Mr. Henderson’s death, she and her family have struggled to “maneuver around” with so much still unknown.

They fear that Mr. Henderson’s killer is still somewhere nearby. Her daughter Lavina, 20, who used to ride the No. 3 train every day, now avoids it.

They also want to know why the train continued moving for several stops after the shooting took place. Mr. Henderson’s sister noted that in the photo she saw of her brother, the blood around him is undisturbed, suggesting that no one tried to help him before the authorities responded.

“He shouldn’t have rode six stops on a train after being shot, laying in a pool of blood,” Ms. Henderson said.

But worst of all, Ms. Dockery said, is the fact that her husband’s death certificate says he died at the hospital, which means he may have been aware that the photos were being taken.

“He was alive on the train,” she said. “That’s what hurt, that there was no aid rendered to my husband. There was no protocol. It was just, ‘lights, camera, action.’”

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