Attorney who helped firebomb NYPD car during BLM protests sentenced to prison

Attorney who helped firebomb NYPD car during BLM protests sentenced to prison

By Alexander Nazaryan

January 27, 2023

BROOKLYN — In a dramatic hearing on Thursday, a federal judge sentenced a corporate attorney who firebombed a police car during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests to a year in jail, arguing that his prestigious education — boarding school, Princeton, a law degree from New York University — should have rendered him a peacekeeper, not an instigator.

“You’re not one of the oppressed. You’re one of the privileged,” senior Eastern District of New York Judge Brian Cogan told Colinford Mattis, even as he expressed admiration for what the 35-year-old had accomplished in his life.

The sentencing marked the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year legal battle that saw Mattis and his co-defendant, Urooj Rahman, become symbols of the nation’s political tumult and divisions. Spanning two presidential administrations, their case saw competing imperatives play out in public and in the courtroom, as well as in the media.

To the Heritage Foundation they were “terrorists,” while New York magazine allowed that they could be seen as “civil-rights heroes, even martyrs.” The Daily Mail called them “woke lawyers.” In the pages of the New York Times, they were described by a guest contributor as victims of “deeply ingrained injustices.”

The Justice Department under then-President Donald Trump sought to put them away for at least 45 years. But then Joe Biden became president, and in both cases the Justice Department settled for much less. They ended up pleading guilty last summer to conspiracy to commit arson. Both will lose their law licenses.

“You’re a good guy. No question,” Cogan told Mattis, dressed in a blue shirt and tan khakis. Before reading the sentence — 12 months and one day, a fine of $30,000 and one year of probation — the judge asked for a few moments of quiet contemplation, a final opportunity to think through a case that had become a topic of national interest and a referendum on racism and policing, privilege and justice, not to mention the coronavirus pandemic that seemed to bring those and other forces into inescapable public confrontation.

The facts of the case were never in dispute. But what those facts mean remains deeply unsettled, as the nation continues to struggle with racial and social divisions. Promising attorneys who seemed to embody a fundamental American promise, Mattis and Rahman both said in court that they had allowed anger to consume them.

“I’ll be spending every day for the rest of my life trying to make this right,” Rahman said at her sentencing. She will spend 15 months in jail. Standing before the same judge three months later, Mattis voiced the same sentiment. “I ruined my life with my conduct that night,” he said on Thursday.

In succumbing to anger at a time of profound division, fear and isolation, the two were perhaps no different from many other Americans who see no meaningful outlet for their frustration at what they see as society’s misguided direction. Political violence remains rare, but it is rising. For the most part, the perpetrators are far-right extremists. In this case, the malefactors were progressives, which may be why the case gained national attention.

It was Rahman, a social justice activist who worked in housing law, who threw a Bud Light bottle filled with gasoline — a wick of toilet paper served as the fuse — at an abandoned New York Police Department vehicle in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn in the early hours of May 30, 2020, as New York and many other cities, large and small, across the nation erupted in social justice protests.

Mattis drove the car. But it was he who purchased the gasoline used to make the flaming Molotov cocktail that Rahman threw.

Though generally peaceful, the ragged edges of that summer’s Black Lives Matter protests sometimes devolved into violence, mostly involving destruction of private property. Whereas more than a few defendants from the Jan. 6, 2021, pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol have achieved a measure of public notoriety — several have even run for public office — Rahman and Mattis are the rare social justice protesters privy to the same attention.

Cogan’s obviously genuine compassion for Mattis — who is raising three foster children, for whom he was left to care after his mother died from uterine cancer — was overcome by a sense that the vehement demonstrations that followed George Floyd’s killing needed attorneys to monitor police misconduct instead of partaking in misconduct of their own.

“We really needed you. We really needed the lawyers,” Cogan said as he mulled the “horrible night” that saw violence erupt all over New York. Several officers of the NYPD were accused of overly aggressive tactics in confronting protesters throughout late May and early June 2020.

Mattis’s defense attorney Sabrina Shroff argued that her client’s alcohol abuse and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, prevented him from thinking clearly. She said that late night calls with him could be something of an ordeal.

“He just sounded drunk,” Shroff said.

Cogan appeared unconvinced by appeals to neurodivergence or substance abuse, pointing to Mattis’s educational and professional record as evidence that he had more internal fortitude than Shroff suggested.

Still, the proceedings were informed by the knowledge that a much worse fate could have awaited Mattis and Rahman. In the broadest terms, it was the 2020 presidential election that came to their rescue.

Within hours of their arrest, the case was transferred from state to federal court, an unusual move for a crime that involved no bodily harm or loss of life. The police van they torched had already been vandalized. Trump’s Justice Department plainly wanted to make an example of the duo, as the unstinting June 11 indictment filed against them made clear.

Prosecutors also fought to keep them in pretrial detention, leading to a campaign on the imprisoned pair’s behalf. “The Trump Administration is wielding the punitive force of this system against Colin and Urooj, who are Black and South Asian, respectively, in order to chill popular protest against the unjust status quo,” read an open letter from civil rights and progressive advocacy groups. The letter said that “cruel and unnecessary” treatment the two experienced “reflects the Trump Administration’s animosity towards the powerful and growing Movement for Black Lives.”

A judge set them free on bond that June. Even then, they still faced a potential minimum 45-year prison sentence from prosecutors who seemed determined to see them as domestic terrorists, not hapless vandals. But then came the turnover of presidential administrations; almost exactly a year after the two were first arrested, federal prosecutors — now in Biden’s employ, not Trump’s — gave Mattis and Rahman a plea deal that, were they to accept it, would give them no more than two years in jail.

Conservatives were outraged, with a National Review editorial criticizing Biden for “shameful pandering.” That and similar charges seemed to ignore the fact that Mattis and Rahman have their professional and personal lives ruined for the foreseeable future — and perhaps for the rest of their lives.

Mattis’s defense attorney Shroff said on Thursday that the crime her client had committed was “going to forever mark him.” Speaking a few minutes later, Mattis described the family he was trying to build, the three children from whom he will be separated once his jail term begins in several weeks.

“I ruined that,” he said.

January 27, 2023. Tags: , , , , , . Rioting looting and arson, Social justice warriors. Leave a comment.

New York lawyer Urooj Rahman gets only 15 months in prison for firebombing a police car during the George Floyd riots

Lawyer gets 15 months behind bars for firebombing police car

By Tom Hays

November 18, 2022

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City attorney was sentenced to 15 months behind bars on Friday for firebombing an empty New York City police vehicle with another lawyer during protests over the murder of George Floyd.

Before hearing her sentence, Urooj Rahman asked a judge to spare her prison time and give her a “second chance” to redeem herself for what she called a momentary lapse of judgement.

“I’m so incredibly sorry for my reckless and wrong actions,” a tearful Rahman said in federal court in Brooklyn. “I don’t think there’s enough words to express my sorrow and regret. … I completely lost my way in the emotion of the night.”

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan praised her for choosing a career in public interest law to fight against social injustices.

“You’re a remarkable person who did a terrible thing on one night,” Cogan said.

However, Cogan also scolded her for thinking she could get away with violent protest.

“It displays an amazing amount of arrogance. … It’s just a very arrogant way to think,” he said.

Federal prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 18 to 24 months as part of a plea deal.

Rahman and Colinford Mattis were arrested amid clashes between protesters and police on May 30, 2020, during an eruption of demonstrations following Floyd’s killing by a police officer in Minnesota.

Surveillance cameras recorded Rahman hurling an incendiary device into a parked police vehicle, setting fire to its console. No one was injured in the attack, but the vehicle was severely damaged.

Officers arrested the lawyers a short time later and said they found a lighter, a Bud Light beer bottle filled with toilet paper and a gasoline tank in the back of a minivan driven by Mattis, a corporate attorney. Prosecutors alleged the lawyers planned to distribute and throw other Molotov cocktails.

While other lawyers condemned their conduct, some objected to the severity of the charges, arguing that the case was improperly handled as if it were an act of domestic terrorism. When the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn asked that the lawyers be detained without bail, 56 former federal prosecutors sent a legal brief to the court criticizing the government’s handling of the case.

Rahman and Mattis have been disbarred. Mattis is scheduled for sentencing next month.

November 18, 2022. Tags: , , , , , , , . Black lives matter, Racism, Rioting looting and arson, Social justice warriors. Leave a comment.