FILE – In this July 4, 2018, file photo from video provided by the New York City Police Department, the members of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit work to safely remove Therese Okoumou, who climbed on the Statue of Liberty to protest against the border of the separation of the children. Okoumou was sentenced for felony charges on Monday, Jan. 17, 2018. The charges are trespassing, and carry a possible penalty of up to 18 months in prison. (NYPD via AP, File)
NEW YORK – A woman who climbed up the foot of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, to protest against the separation of families at the Mexican border, was convicted Monday of misdemeanor charges by a judge who said that a person’s position can not be a factor in the question of whether the laws are complied with.
The decision of the US Court Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein came two hours after Therese Okoumou got choked up as she testified, saying images of the U.S.-Mexican border of the children being removed from their parents gave her nightmares.
She faces up to 18 months in prison at a March 5 conviction on charges of trespassing, interference with an agency function and disorderly conduct.
Ron Kuby, one of Okoumou the lawyers, told the judge that his client wanted a trial, even though it was clear that the “probability of her belief today was close to 100 percent.”
In a courtroom packed with emotional Okoumou supporters, Gorenstein explained that his decision needed to be consistent, or it was Okoumou who climbed the statue or someone with exactly the opposite opinions.
He noted that Okoumou repeatedly ignored orders to descend from a perch at the feet of the statue that was high enough that an officer of justice said that it could have seriously injured or killed her or tourists below. New York Police Department rescuers were forced to climb up a rickety ladder, and gird yourself, such as mountain climbers safely bring her down.
The four-hour long demonstration forced the evacuation of 4,330 people of the statue garden on one of the busiest days of the year.
Okoumou had testified that she could not live with the eyes of children “in cages” and thought that climbing the statue was the only way to get attention for the problem.
“I had nightmares. I just couldn’t live with it,” she said.
Outside the court later, she stood next to Kuby, a lawyer Rhidaya Trivedi and California lawyer Michael Avenatti, who served as a consultant in the case, as supporters held signs behind her.
“We are on the right side of history,” Okoumou said. “I’m not a bit discouraged today.”
They said that they do not regret any of her Statue of the Freedom of protest.
In a statement, the Procurator of the s. S. Geoffrey S. Berman praised Gorenstein’s ruling.
“The act of climbing from the foot of the statue of liberty was then peaceful protest is a right that we certainly respect. It was a crime that put people in serious danger,” he said, referring to the work of the NYPD and U.S. Park police officers who rescued her.
Gorenstein allowed Okoumou to remain free without adding any bail conditions requested by the Assistant-Procurator of the V. S. Brett Kalikow, who said Okoumou had two times tried to climb the eiffel tower in Paris, and was arrested on a August 2017 Ministry of Labour protest.
This story has been corrected to show that the defendant’s first name is Therese, not Theresa.