Statue of Liberty Climber Gets House Arrest After Texas Encore

Arrested after she scaled the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 2018, Therese Patricia Okoumou shows off her wings outside the Manhattan federal courthouse where she appeared for an Aug. 28, 2018, hearing on misdemeanor-trespassing charges. (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

MANHATTAN (CN) – After her July 4 arrest for scaling the Statue of Liberty to protest family separations at the U.S. border, activist Patricia Okoumou climbed France’s Eiffel Tower. A federal judge grounded Okoumou on Friday for her latest performance, which put the acrobatic activist atop a Texas detention center used to hold immigrant children.

Okoumou reportedly chanted “free the children” on Feb. 20 as she scaled five stories of the Southwest Key building in Austin, Texas. As on this past Independence Day at Liberty Island, the 45-year-old Okoumou said she did it to call attention to the Trump administration’s family-separation policy. 

The government now says it may have pulled apart “thousands” more families than previously estimated, but U.S. prosecutors noted in court today that Texas had to send 70 first responders to get Okoumou off the building.

“She apparently thinks that she is entitled to do so in service of her cause,” U.S. Attorney Brett Kalikow said of Okoumou. “Now enough is enough.”

Defense attorney Ron Kuby urged U.S. District Judge Gabriel Gorenstein meanwhile to view the misdemeanor trespass offense as one would a drug offender grappling with addiction.

“Ms. Okoumou does not have a drug problem,” Kuby said. “She does have a problem with injustice.”

Seemingly unimpressed with the analogy, Gorenstein shot back: “From a legal perspective, she may have a climbing problem.”

Kuby argued that the Texas response was excessive. Disputing that his client’s actions were reckless, he noted that Okoumou herself would only have fallen into an open field.

“It is certainly true that she poses a danger to the Trump administration’s policy of family separation,” Kuby added.

Kuby also asked the court to note that “protesting is not yet a crime in this country.”

Judge Gorenstein expressed concern about the the incentive Okoumou created by fundraising for her legal defense after her arrests.

“In order for people to be inspired to make donations, she has to break the law,” Gorenstein said of the social media phenomenon.

The remark sparked a clashing of wits between the judge and Kuby, whose reputation as a civil rights attorney is top flight.

“I dare say that today’s proceedings, however they end, will generate their own publicity,” Kuby said, referring to the courtroom packed with activists and reporters.

“Over a violation of the law,” Gorenstein interjected.

Known for representing high-profile political defendants, Kuby suggested that prosecutors wanted to put Okoumou in prison not for what she did, but for what she represented.

“The cynic in me says that this has to do with cracking down on a symbol of opposition to very monstrous policy,” Kuby said, sparking approval from an activist sitting in the pews who shouted “Yes!”

Gorenstein told the attorney that he could imagine an identical political protest ending another way.

If someone climbed Lady Liberty to protest abortion rights, the judge told Kuby: “We’d be in the same courtroom, but you might not be at the table.”

At the end, Gorenstein said home detention could hold Okoumou until she is sentenced on March 19.

“I am hopeful that Ms. Okoumou may feel that the risk to her from committing another crime within the next three weeks, two-and-a-half weeks, is not one that she will want to take,” he said.

Okoumou was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but is a naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived for at least a decade on Staten Island.

After the hearing, Kuby told reporters and the press that his client would be outfitted with a “slave bracelet” before returning home. She wore a green headband with the white painted words “I REALLY CARE, WHY WON’T U,” spoofing a jacket that First Lady Melania Trump wore at the height of the family separation policy.

“I will abide by the bail conditions,” she told reporters.

Her pink jacket was emblazoned with the words “ABOLISH ICE” and other slogans.

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