Statue of Liberty Protester Wants Trial by Jury

MANHATTAN (CN) – Scoffing at the chance of a plea deal, a defense attorney for Statue of Liberty protester Therese Patricia Okoumou pushed Tuesday to have her act of civil disobedience weighed by a jury, rather than a judge.

“Since Patricia Okoumou’s conduct was a profound act of conscience, it entirely necessary and appropriate that she be tried by a jury that is the conscience of the community,” famed civil rights attorney Ron Kuby told reporters after the 15-minute hearing in Manhattan.

Civil rights attorney Ron Kuby talks to protesters outside the Manhattan headquarters of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after an Aug. 28, 2018, hearing across the street in the misdemeanor-trespassing case against his client. At left from Kuby, Therese Patricia Okoumou was arrested on July 4, 2018, for scaling the Statue of Liberty. (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

A Congolese national who became a U.S. citizen, Okoumou was charged with three misdemeanor trespassing charges on July 4 when she scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty. Okoumou has characterized her climb as an act of civil disobedience, protesting the Trump administration’s policy of detaining immigrant children in isolation from their families. She faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted.

For her hearing this morning on the top floor of Manhattan federal courthouse, Okoumou provocatively sported a dress in patriotic red, white and blue, as well as wings that read “IMPEACH” and “RESIGN” on either side, and a headband that read “SHERO.”

Okoumou also wore a comically long red tie, describing it as a direct reference to the commander-in-chief, who she told reporters has no sense of fashion.

She said she would liked to have made “Make America Great Again”-style hats but the hearing was scheduled closer than the turnaround time to produce the Trump-style accessories.

At her previous hearing in Manhattan federal court, Okoumou’s embellished outfit poked fun at first lady Melania Trump. Okoumou reprised that green dress Monday afternoon at a Manhattan demonstration protesting the appointment of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

U.S. District Judge Gabriel Gorenstein presided over Tuesday’s hearing but did not indicate whether he will grant Okoumou’s motion for a jury trial.

Around 30 supporters filled the right side of Gorenstein’s courtroom this morning and then followed Okoumou and Kuby across the street to the Manhattan headquarters of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a demonstration.

“Long ago, the founders of the Constitution and the Sixth Amendment in particular made it clear that people who are facing imprisonment for more than six months should receive a trial by jury, that only the most minor offenses were reserved for trial by judge alone,” Kuby said.

“It is our position that the legal authority exists for this magistrate to grant a trial by jury and it would be particularly appropriate in this case, not just because of the gravity of the punishment but because Ms. Okoumou’s acts were profound acts of conscience and the jury system serves as the conscience of community, and that’s what we requested today,” Kuby added.

When asked by reporters about the prospects of a plea deal, Kuby coyly referenced both his client’s July 4 climb and her remarks post-arraignment.

“I would say plea talks never really, not to use a height metaphor, never got off the ground,” Kuby said.

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, on misdemeanor-trespassing charges. (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

Okoumou had herself been referencing former first lady Michelle Obama when she spoke to reporters about her arrest. “When they go low, we go high, and I went as high as I could,” Okoumou had said.

An online petition urging the federal court to dismiss the charges against Okoumou has over 5,000 signatures.

Judge Gorenstein set a trial date for Nov. 5.

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