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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Tapes Draw Tears From Felony-Charged Activist

MANHATTAN (CN) - An Occupy Wall Street activist wept in court as video aired of a contested incident that landed her in court to face a felony charge of assaulting a police officer.

Cecily McMillan, 25, faces up to seven years in prison if a jury finds that she assaulted New York City Police Officer Grantley Bovell during the mass arrest of protesters on the movement's anniversary that coincided that year with St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

The bright green outfit she wore that day makes her stand out in the otherwise dark footage prosecutors displayed Wednesday, where McMillan can be seen throwing her elbow toward the face of another figure believed to be New York City Police Officer Grantley Bovell.

McMillan, who says she is a longtime practitioner of nonviolent activism, said she unintentionally and instinctually flinched after Bovell grabbed her right breast, but the prosecution insisted that tape showed premeditation.

Narrating the video, Bovell said, "Right now, she's in the crouching position."

With her arm at a 90-degree angle, McMillan appeared to jump up and swipe her elbow back seconds later before several arresting officers pounce on her. An unknown cameraman at the scene took to YouTube with footage showing McMillan splayed on the road as she is apparently being put in handcuffs.

Bovell told the jury that he wound up with a small cut under his left eye, a bruise and pains that hung on for about a week, as prosecutors displayed close-up photos of his face.

McMillan meanwhile said that her arrest continues to haunt her in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder. She cried into her hands nearly every time the footage played, while her lawyer comforted her with a hand on her shoulder.

A diverse jury of men and women saw no fewer than three of those tapes on Wednesday.

Martin Stolar, a National Lawyer's Guild attorney representing McMillan, objected to the first version that he said stripped context. He pointed out that the grand jury had seen another one, which Bovell had marked and dated.

Assistant District Attorney Erin Choi later produced that DVD, which contained two files.

One appeared to place a computer-generated spotlight on McMillan hitting the officer in slow-motion. The latter provided a wide-angle and long-shot view of what happened before, during and after that moment.

In this version, an unidentified woman's voice can be heard off-camera remarking, "Is she getting beat up?"

McMillan also alleges that her treatment triggered seizures, which Bovell brushed off during his testimony as playacting.

"I saw the young lady playing dead, refusing to move," Bovell said.

When McMillan told him that she could not breathe, Bovell said he replied, "If you can speak to me, you can breathe."

With much of the case hinging upon Bovell's credibility, the defense unsuccessfully fought before trial to crack open confidential records that could show any disciplinary infractions the officer has faced.

Stolar did, however, get some ammunition to attack the officer's character from a 2010 Bronx ticket-fixing scandal that sparked a criminal probe, implicated more than 100 officers and slapped Bovell with a penalty during an internal disciplinary proceeding.

Bovell confessed to making summonses disappear for friends and himself on at least five occasions by calling his union delegate. He was suspended for about a week, got docked 25 vacation days and lost privileges of holding a side job.

"At the time, we didn't know it was the wrong thing to do," he said.

Stolar began his cross-examination trying to undermine that position.

For more than an hour, Stolar probed Bovell on how he selected what tickets to fix, what the offenses were, and what he told internal review officers after the scandal came to light.

Where Bovell downplayed his actions as an accepted part of the NYPD's culture of "police courtesy," Stolar asked pointed questions about how people who are "part of the club" take care of their summonses.

"By calling the union delegate, you are relieved of the obligation that most citizens have?" the lawyer asked.

"Yes," Bovell replied.

Later, Stolar grilled the officer about his account of the March 17, 2012, arrest.

Bovell said that he first saw McMillan refusing to leave the park while she was talking with an unidentified female officer. He said his memory was hazy, and he could not remember what she said in particular. But, when prodded, he claimed that McMillan had been gesticulating wildly and cursing.

"I remember her saying, 'It's not fucking fair,' and some things about the NYPD," Bovell testified.

But he insisted that McMillan voluntarily turned around and walked the other way when he calmly intervened.

Quizzing Bovell about the apparent disconnect, Stolar asked him what caused her sudden about-face.

"Luck of the draw, I guess," Bovell replied.

Stolar's questioning left off on Wednesday moments before the events that led to his client's arrest, and he is expected to broach that topic at the next hearing.

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