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New plea deal for protesting lawyers who threw Molotov cocktail at NYPD van

Two racial justice protesters still face disbarment, but they worked out a deal that significantly slashes their potential prison sentence.

BROOKLYN (CN) — Two attorneys who pleaded guilty to throwing a Molotov cocktail at an unoccupied police vehicle during a 2020 protest cut a new deal with prosecutors Thursday, slashing in half their prison sentence guidelines. 

Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman tossed the firebomb through the broken window of an empty NYPD van outside a precinct in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood in late May of 2020, amid a rise in protests across the city — and country — in response to George Floyd’s murder

Under the new agreement to superseding information charging conspiracy to commit arson and to possess an explosive device, the maximum sentence is five years, however the government seeks a term of between 18 months and 24 months. 

The pair, who were released pending trial, previously faced up to 10 years in prison based on an October 2021 guilty plea that included a terrorism enhancement, which defense attorneys fought against in court. 

Mattis and Rahman each agreed to pay $30,137 in restitution. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Richardson noted for the record, one of the “collateral consequences” of the plea is “almost certainly their disbarment from the practice of law,” which is mandatory under state law.  

Friends and family packed the courtroom during Thursday's change of plea hearing in the Eastern District of New York, as well as an overflow room used to facilitate Covid-19 social distancing protocols. 

Rahman, 33, removed her blue medical mask to admit she and Mattis agreed to make and possess an explosive device. 

“We assembled the device together and I threw it into an unoccupied, damaged police vehicle,” Rahman said. “I deeply regret my actions and wish I had made different choices.” 

Like his co-defendant, Mattis, 34, acknowledged that the device wasn’t listed in the national firearm registry, and copped to the incident. 

“This was in Brooklyn, a few days after George Floyd’s murder,” Mattis said. “I wish I had made different and better choices that night, and I have regretted my actions ever since."

The events took place around midnight on May 29, 2020. On that day, 230 protesters were arrested and 10% were charged with felonies, according to the New York attorney general’s report detailing the NYPD’s response during the surge of demonstrations. The following day, 332 people were arrested with 5% facing felonies. 

While he is bound by the five-year maximum, U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan noted that he could depart from the government’s guidelines. 

“You’re not going to know with any certainty what the sentence is going to be,” Cogan told the two Brooklyn attorneys. “If you don’t like the sentence when I impose it, you’re not going to be able to withdraw your guilty plea.” 

Mattis is represented by attorney Sabrina Shroff. Appearing for Rahman were Peter Baldwin of the firm Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and Rita Maxwell, of Bracewell LLP. 

Both Shroff and Baldwin declined to comment following the hearing, which ended with supporters pouring out into a lively courthouse hallway, exchanging hugs and handshakes with the defendants and one another. 

Sentencing will be handled separately in late September and early October. 

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