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  • Occupy Wall Street activist found guilty of assaulting police officer

    • Cecily McMillan faces up to seven years in prison
    • Occupy protesters shouting ‘shame’ led out of courtroom

    An Occupy Wall Street activist is facing up to seven years in prison after being convicted by a jury in Manhattan of assaulting a New York police officer as he led her out of a protest.

    Cecily McMillan was on Monday afternoon found guilty of deliberately elbowing Officer Grantley Bovell in the face in March 2012. After a trial lasting more than four weeks, the jury of eight women and four men reached their verdict in about three hours.

    Judge Ronald Zweibel ordered that McMillan, 25, a graduate student at the New School, be detained. He rejected a request from her lawyers for bail.

    “I see absolutely no reason why a remand would be appropriate here,” Martin Stolar, her lead attorney, told the judge. “She is not likely to be somebody to cut and run.” Zweibel replied: “Remanded pending sentencing.”

    Supporters of McMillan in the courtroom reacted furiously, shouting “shame” and screaming at the more than 30 police officers lining room 1116 at Manhattan criminal court. After half a dozen refused to leave the court, two were carried out by police officers.

    Wearing a white dress and a beige jacket, McMillan sat still and silent as the verdict was read on her charge of second-degree assault, a felony. McMillan was placed in handcuffs by police and led out of the courtroom as supporters went on shouting. “Corruption is the fuel, the court is the tool,” one chanted. Sentencing was scheduled for 19 May. Her lawyers said she was being taken to the women’s facility at the Riker’s Island jail.

    Speaking outside, Stolar described the verdict as “a terrible mistake” and criticised Zweibel’s decision to detain McMillan, a first-time convict, before sentencing. “She never missed a court appearance, she has always been here, and is fully cognisant of what the consequences of a guilty verdict are,” he said.

    Claiming that Zweibel had made “numerous errors” during the trial, Stolar said: “Those will be the subject of an appeal. We have optimistic thoughts about what an appeal might do, such as send it back for a new trial.”

    McMillan was found guilty of intentionally assaulting Bovell in order to “prevent him from performing his lawful duty”. Her conviction is the most serious of the dozens against members of the protest movement, which sprang up in the autumn of 2011. Hers is believed to be the last of more than 2,600 prosecutions brought against members of the movement, most of which were dismissed or dropped.

    Prosecutors accused McMillan of attacking Bovell, 35, as he walked her out of Zuccotti Park, in lower Manhattan, where activists had gathered on the night of 17 March 2012 to mark six months of the Occupy movement. Bovell had found her screaming at a female officer, who had asked her to leave the park so that it could be cleaned, prosecutors said.

    Assistant district attorney Erin Choi told the court last month that Bovell was walking behind McMillan with his hand on her shoulder. McMillan asked people around her “Are you filming this?”, said Choi, and then “crouched down, then bent her knees, and then aimed her elbow at the officer and then jumped up to strike”.

    “Officer Bovell was completely horrified,” said Choi. “This was the last thing he was expecting to happen that day.” Photographs showed that Bovell suffered a black eye. He said that he went on to experience headaches and sensitivity to light.

    Prosecutors showed the jury grainy video clips of the incident, downloaded from YouTube, which they said proved McMillan deliberately struck Bovell before attempting to run away. Less than two hours into their deliberations, the jury asked if they could re-watch the video footage. They were given a laptop on which to view it in the jury room.

    Stolar, who argued in court that the clips were not clear enough to prove anything, told the Guardian that he thought they were responsible for the conviction. “I think that is the only piece of evidence that a jury could hang its hat on,” he said. “On a quick glance without analysis, it looks like an assault. But it does not show what happened to Cecily.”

    McMillan claimed that she swung her arm back instinctively only after having one of her breasts grabbed from behind while she was walking out of the park. Her lawyers showed photographs of bruising to her chest to support this. They said McMillan did not know that Bovell was a police officer, and did not intend to hurt him.

    Stolar told the jury that on a “day off from protest”, McMillan became caught up in the chaotic scenes at Zuccotti Park, after she stopped by to collect a friend to continue St Patrick’s Day celebrations with a friend visiting from out of town, which saw her dressed in bright green.

    Testifying, McMillan said that she had “no memory” of the moment her elbow struck Bovell. “I’m really sorry that officer got hurt,” she said. She has said that she suffered a seizure or anxiety attack after being arrested, a claim supported by activists who say they saw her convulsing on the pavement, and subsequently received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Choi, however, described McMillan’s account as “so utterly ridiculous and unbelievable that she might as well have said that aliens came down that night and assaulted her”. She said the bruising was not detected during two hospital checks on the night of the incident and suggested that McMillan caused it herself.

    In his own testimony, Bovell, a Barbados-born US navy veteran who typically patrols the 40th precinct in the Bronx, said: “I remember the defendant crouching down and, all of a sudden, she lunged her elbow back and hit me in the face.”

    McMillan rejected an earlier offer from prosecutors for her to plead guilty to a charge of second-degree assault of a police officer, which would have still resulted in her being classed as a felon, in exchange for a recommendation to the judge that she should not receive a prison sentence.

    Her lawyers stressed throughout the trial that she was a moderate left-wing political activist who had urged her fellow Occupy members to pursue a path of non-violent engagement with the state. The prosecutors, however, were unmoved, accusing McMillan of using the movement as a shield.

    “It is time for the defendant to answer for her own criminal actions,” Choi said in her closing arguments last week. “Our founding fathers did not create a right to free assembly so people could commit crimes and hide behind their right to protest. This is a sacred right that should be preserved and protected.”

    A loyal group of McMillan supporters, which calls itself Justice4Cecily, said in a statement that it was “devastated by the jury’s verdict”. It criticised Zweibel for blocking McMillan’s lawyers from citing past allegations of violent conduct against Bovell, and for banning them from speaking to the media early on in the trial. “He is rightly known as ‘a prosecutor in robes’,” the group said.

    Asked to elaborate on his complaints about Zweibel’s handling of the trial, Stolar said: “I have a lot of opinions about this judge, but I still have to appear before him, so … I am not going to be too glib.”

    Jon Swaine in New York
    theguardian.com, Monday 5 May 2014 20.17 BST

    Find this story at 5 May 2014

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