Officer who found pipe bomb arrested in Times Square subway explosion

Saturday, July 31st 2004, 11:38 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The former police officer who said he found a flaming backpack that exploded in a Times Square subway station was arrested Saturday in connection with the incident.

Joseph Rodriguez faces charges of arson, weapons possession and reckless endangerment, police said.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association attorney Stuart London has said the officer denies he was responsible for the July 19 subway incident. London did not immediately return a call for comment Saturday.

Rodriguez, 27, was involved in rescue efforts following the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 and said he was traumatized by it, officials said.

At some point, the NYPD sought to remove Rodriguez from the force because of unspecified psychological problems. The officer resisted, but agreed to retire after being awarded a disability pension two weeks ago based on a claim that his problems stemmed from Sept. 11.

Rodriguez had worked a final shift at a transit station when the explosion occurred, leaving him with minor injuries, disrupting subway service and drawing a huge response by police on alert for terrorist attacks.

The officer later told police that he saw the blue and black nylon backpack on fire on a mezzanine staircase at 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue, and was warning commuters to stay away and calling for backup when it exploded. At first, investigators believed fireworks caused the blast, but they later found pieces of plastic pipe, traces of black powder and BB's _ evidence of a pipe bomb.

Investigators soon focused on Rodriguez as a possible suspect based largely on his psychological history, sources have told The Associated Press. He also raised suspicion by wasting several minutes trying to report the bomb to his partner, rather than calling 911, they said.

Rodriguez was briefly hospitalized after the explosion. He was arrested Saturday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital's Columbia-Presbyterian Center.