a criminal defense attorney affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild. He is co-counsel for Cecily McMillan, along with Rebecca Heinegg.
field coordinator for the Justice for Cecily Support Team.
An Occupy Wall Street activist has been found guilty of assaulting a New York City police officer in a trial that critics say should have been about the police assaulting her. Cecily McMillan was arrested in March 2012 as protesters tried to re-occupy Zuccotti Park, six months after Occupy began. McMillan was convicted of deliberately striking Officer Grantley Bovell with her elbow, leaving him with a black eye. McMillan says she swung her arm instinctively after being grabbed in the right breast from behind. To support this claim, defense lawyers showed photos of bruising to her chest during trial. In addition to her injuries, McMillan says she went into a seizure as officers pinned her down. She was later treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. After a four-week trial, the jury took just three hours Monday to deliver a verdict. The judge in the case rejected defense pleas to allow her release on bail. McMillan was placed in handcuffs and taken to Rikers Island, where she’ll remain until sentencing in two weeks. She faces up to seven years in prison. We speak to McMillan’s attorney Martin Stolar and her friend Lucy Parks, field coordinator for the Justice for Cecily Support Team.
AARON MATÉ: An Occupy Wall Street activist has been found guilty of assaulting a New York City police officer, but critics say the trial should have been about the police assaulting her. Cecily McMillan was arrested in March 2012 as protesters tried to re-occupy Zuccotti Park six months after Occupy began. McMillan was convicted of deliberately striking Officer Grantley Bovell with her elbow, leaving him with a black eye. McMillan says she swung her arm instinctively after being grabbed in the right breast from behind. To support this claim, defense lawyers showed photos of bruising to her chest during trial. In addition to her injuries, McMillan says she went into a seizure as officers pinned her down. She was later treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
AMY GOODMAN: But prosecutors rejected Cecily McMillan’s claims and suggested she may have even caused the bruises to her body herself. After a four-week trial, the jury took just three hours Monday to deliver a verdict. The judge in the case rejected defense pleas to allow her release on bail. As outraged supporters chanted "Shame," McMillian was placed in handcuffs and taken to Rikers Island. She’ll remain there until sentencing in two weeks, when she faces up to seven years in prison.
In a moment, we’ll be joined by her attorney and a friend, but first I want to turn back to our interview we did in 2012 that we did in 2012 with Cecily McMillan when she joined us on Democracy Now! just six days after her arrest. This is part of that interview.
AMY GOODMAN: We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Cecily, you limped in here. You’re very bruised. You have a bruise over your left eye. And I can see, with your—the scoop neck of your T-shirt, you are scratched and it is black and blue. It is—
CECILY McMILLAN: A handprint.
AMY GOODMAN: —the shape of a hand. Black and blue, the shape of a hand.
CECILY McMILLAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: That is above your right breast. And then your arms. Your arms are black and blue around both elbows. You’ve got finger marks of black and blue on both arms. And you’re clearly—
CECILY McMILLAN: My back.
AMY GOODMAN: —in a lot of pain on your back, and we can’t show those bruises now. Your ribs—what happened?
CECILY McMILLAN: My ribs are really bruised.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to you? You went out on Saturday, six-month anniversary of Occupy, with hundreds of other people to Zuccotti. And what took place?
CECILY McMILLAN: Like I said, I haven’t seen any of the videos yet. I ended a 40-something-hour stay in jail and ended up with all these bruises. I mean, that’s—I have an open case, so I can’t talk more about it, and I’m sure you can tell that it would be difficult for me to remember some things. But I have these.
AMY GOODMAN: For more on Cecily McMillan’s case, we’re joined by two guests. Martin Stolar is a criminal defense attorney who served as co-counsel during the trial. And Lucy Parks is the field coordinator for the Justice for Cecily Support Team.
We welcome you both. Martin Stolar, what happened in this trial? She now has been convicted.
MARTIN STOLAR: Well, she’s convicted and is awaiting sentencing. The maximum sentence that she faces is a two- to seven-year term in state prison. It is conceivable that the judge could impose probation, as well. But we are really concerned about an appeal in this case. The nature of the trial was such that the judge excluded some substantial evidence that was favorable to Cecily, in ruling, for example, that several of our character witnesses were cumulative, that we couldn’t present different perspectives from Occupy Wall Street and their vision of who Cecily was. The judge prohibited us from questioning the police officer who was assaulted about the lightness of the injury, because later that night, a couple hours after he was given the black eye that led to this conviction, he was banging some Occupy Wall Street protesters’ heads on the stairs of a bus, a guy who was in handcuffs. The judge wouldn’t let us ask about that. So, on balance, you know, the fact that this prosecution went forward is really what’s of concern. This officer got a black eye, a bit of a mouse, and was back on duty a week later, no particular difficulty.
Cecily, regardless of what you think about whether she slugged the cop or not, was severely beaten and was put into a seizure, or what appeared to be a seizure, with some serious physical injuries and a lack of—total lack of memory about what happened to her. She was then dragged to a hospital, where she was told that she was going to be released, so she said, "All right, I want to go see my own doctor." And then, subsequently, she was told, "You’re being charged with assaulting this police officer." She was completely shocked. She had absolutely no idea what she had been arrested for and what she had done or what she had been accused of doing. So the claim that Cecily somehow intentionally assaulted the police officer was a bit ridiculous.
This is a young woman who is known as a nonviolent activist. In fact, on this particular night, she wasn’t even out protesting. She was out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and only wound up in Zuccotti Park to meet somebody so they could continue going drinking at the Irish pubs that are down by the Wall Street area. She was caught up in the police department’s manufactured need to sweep Zuccotti Park clear on the six-month anniversary of the occupation of the park. They made up a notion that, somehow or other, the park had to be cleaned at midnight; therefore, everybody who had gathered peacefully and in a rather festive and joyful occasion to celebrate the anniversary had to be cleared out. Cecily was among those who were cleared out. What is absurd, and which I have difficulty understanding how the jury could reject it, is that when you look at the video, you see Cecily in a bright green dress. The police officer testified that before she swung her elbow, she said, "Film this. Film this, please," as if she’s advertising, in her bright green dress, that, "Hey, I’m going to commit a crime. Why don’t you just film it, so everybody can spot me?"
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to the footage that was presented in court. Here, you can barely make out Cecily McMillan and a police officer in the crowd. Prosecutors claim the footage shows, as you said, McMillan elbowing Police Officer Grantley Bovell in the face. Explain what it is that we are seeing here.
MARTIN STOLAR: Well, what you’re seeing, from the prosecution’s point of view, was somebody who, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, just out of the blue, slug a cop. Right? Makes absolutely no sense, given who the person is. When you slow down the video and you look at it frame by frame, you see a—what appears to be the officer’s arm across Cecily’s torso. And it is—what her recollection of the event is, is that arm came up and grabbed her breast, and she just reacted. Her elbow went up and hit the police officer in the eye. It’s an accident. It was not an intentional effort to prevent the cop from doing his job. And what his job was was escorting Cecily out of the park. It is difficult to believe that Cyrus Vance, who is the elected district attorney of this county, could look at the injuries that Cecily got, her—what is probably going to be a lifelong course of post-traumatic stress disorder that she’s suffering from, and this little black eye that the cop got—not that he deserved a black eye, but if you grab somebody’s breast, then you have to think that something’s going to happen.
AARON MATÉ: You had photographs of bruises all over her body. When she came on our show, she was displaying some of them. But the prosecution cast doubt on all this, and one of their claims was that she never told medical officials of her injuries. How did they work to undermine her claims of being injured?
MARTIN STOLAR: That is really one of the more difficult things to understand. April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the District Attorney’s Office. However, the DA argued to the jury that because Cecily did not, from the very first hospital she went to, Beekman Downtown, or the second hospital, Bellevue—they argue that because she didn’t all of a sudden make an immediate outcry that her breast had been groped by a police officer, therefore it didn’t happen. Now, that’s really a sexist, anti-woman position. And that they were able to get away with it, when—you know, with the assistant district attorney being a woman and in Sexual Awareness Week in the DA’s Office, to suggest that because of a lack of an outcry that somebody had groped your breast, therefore it didn’t happen, that’s really ancient history and never should have been allowed.
AMY GOODMAN: Lucy Parks, you’re a friend of Cecily, though you weren’t there that night. What are you calling for now? She’s been convicted. She, to the surprise of many, was actually taken off to Rikers and—I’d like to ask about that, as well—denied bail. And in two weeks, the sentence will be determined.
LUCY PARKS: Well, Cecily has a support team, and we’re still figuring out what our next step is going to be, because we were all—the verdict came very much like a punch in the gut, and especially the fact that she did get sent straight to Rikers. But, I mean, there was a very organic rally and march that happened last night at Zuccotti Park. We’ll also be putting together petitions, call-in days, all that sort of stuff, and also trying to bring together, like, the communities of like—like sort of U.S. activists and anyone who, like, feels strongly about this trial to try and heal and then try and move forward, and also broaden the conversation about the justice system to talk about more people than just Cecily, because she’s got it pretty bad, but there are people who have been hurt worse by the justice system even.
AARON MATÉ: The Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance, he’s obtained indictments against seven Occupy activists between 2011 and 2012 on charges of assaulting police officers. Two pleaded guilty, one was acquitted, and three were allowed to plead guilty on misdemeanors. Do you think that with this prosecution and with this verdict, there was a political message being sent to activists?
LUCY PARKS: I most definitely do. To me, the political message is that dissent isn’t really legal anymore. I mean, you can go to a protest—not even to protest, just be there—and get sexually assaulted, accidentally hit a cop and wind up in prison for two to seven years. So that, that’s really scary. And I also think that part of why this case was prosecuted so hard was because the NYPD and the criminal justice system in New York wanted to send a message and put, like, its bookend on Occupy, saying, with the guilty verdict, that, like, they’ve won.
AMY GOODMAN: Marty Stolar, she could have made a plea deal.
MARTIN STOLAR: Well, the only plea deal that was offered was for her to plead guilty to a felony. That is—
AMY GOODMAN: Would she have gone to jail in that case?
MARTIN STOLAR: She would have been offered probation as part of the plea.
AMY GOODMAN: So she could have gotten probation.
MARTIN STOLAR: She could have pled guilty to a felony. She could have gotten probation.
AMY GOODMAN: She knew she faced seven years in jail, but felt—
MARTIN STOLAR: And she knew she faced seven years in jail, and she chose, because she’s a—look, she’s an innocent woman. And it’s unfortunate that sometimes an innocent person gets convicted in the criminal courts. That’s what we have appellate courts for. And we will continue the fight to try to get this conviction reversed. It is pretty outrageous that this puts the bookend on Occupy Wall Street. The statistics that you read before about how many people were arrested for assault and how many pleaded guilty are incorrect. Cecily is the only felony conviction after trial for assaulting a police officer. Nobody else was convicted. And over 90 percent of the roughly 3,000 arrests that took place during the time when Occupy Wall Street was active were dismissed. So, why go after Cecily with such a heavy hand? The only explanation that I’ve ever been able to figure out is that it’s an effort to protect the city of New York from a substantial monetary penalty for the conduct and for the treatment that she received in getting beat up, neglected and, finally, hospitalized, and for the lifelong effects that she’s going to have from how she was brutalized on the night that she was arrested.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Marty Stolar, criminal defense attorney, co-attorney in this case, affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild, a co-counsel with Cecily McMillan’s case along with Rebecca Heinegg. And I want to thank you, Lucy Parks, a field coordinator of Justice for Cecily Support Team.
When we come back, we’ll be joined by Kathleen Cleaver and Danny Glover. Stay with us.