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Two Brooklyn attorneys granted bail in NYPD firebombing case

June 2, 2020 Jim Mustian Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Two attorneys charged with firebombing a police vehicle amid the unrest convulsing New York City were granted bail Monday, while federal prosecutors said the pair might “return to rioting.”

“One night of behavior is not a basis on which to reject somebody’s ability to make rational decisions,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Gold said.

The alleged firebombing took place outside the 88th Precinct house in Fort Greene.

Colinford Mattis, a 32-year-old corporate attorney, and Urooj Rahman, a 31-year-old human rights lawyer, are accused of torching a police vehicle in Brooklyn on Saturday during an eruption of destructive demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minnesota police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after Floyd pleaded for air and stopped moving.

The magistrate ordered another woman detained in a separate firebombing late Friday that authorities said targeted four New York City police officers as an initially peaceful demonstration devolved into chaos.

Prosecutors said the attacks, about two hours apart, were among the most brazen the city has seen during days of protests that led the city on Monday to impose an 11 p.m. curfew.

NYPD officers watched protesters during a solidarity rally for George Floyd on Monday, near Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP

As police and protesters faced off in downtown Brooklyn, surveillance cameras recorded Rahman hurling what prosecutors described as a Molotov cocktail into a police vehicle, setting fire to its console, near an NYPD station house.

Officers arrested the attorneys a short time later and found a lighter, a Bud Light beer bottle filled with toilet paper and a gasoline tank in the back of their minivan, prosecutors said. The attorneys would face 5 to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.

Defense attorney Benjamin Yaster said the allegations amounted to a property crime, adding the NYPD vehicle in question had already been vandalized and was unoccupied.

“Instead of using their privileged positions to change society lawfully, they used a Molotov cocktail and sought to incite others to adopt their violent ways,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

Prosecutors appealed the judge’s order releasing the attorneys on $250,000 bail each. U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie denied that appeal Monday evening, approving the conditions of their home confinement.

Yaster said Rahman, who attended New York University Law School, had no criminal history and has “dedicated her life and her still very young career to helping and serving other people,” including refugees abroad.

An NYPD officer watched protesters in Brooklyn on Monday. Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP

Mattis, a Princeton University graduate, works as an associate for Pryor Cashman. The Manhattan law firm furloughed him in April and said it would review his employment status following Monday’s hearing.

“As we confront critical issues around historic and ongoing racism and inequity in our society, I am saddened to see this young man allegedly involved in the worst kind of reaction to our shared outrage over what had occurred,” Ronald H. Shechtman, the firm’s managing partner, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, some are questioning whether tough police tactics against demonstrators are actually making the violence worse rather than quelling it.

One video shows a New York police officer pulling down a protester’s face mask and spraying him with pepper spray, as the protester had his hands up and was backing away from the officer.

On Sunday night in downtown Manhattan, a New York police officer appeared to be brandishing a gun at protesters. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the officer’s actions “absolutely unacceptable,” and NBC news reported that the Department is reviewing a video of the incident.

Another video shows a two police SUVs driving into a crowd near Prospect Park on Saturday, and state lawmakers on Monday demanded the firing of an officer who shoved a young protester near the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn on Friday.


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