The protester who climbed the Statue of Liberty, forcing the evacuation of Liberty Island on the Fourth of July, pleaded not guilty to several charges in federal court on Thursday.
Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, ascended the statue at about 3:15 p.m. in protest of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. She was taken into custody following a three-hour standoff with police, and faces charges of trespassing, interference with government agency functions and disorderly conduct, per the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York.
After her brief arraignment on the three misdemeanor charges, Magistrate Judge Ona Wang ordered Okoumou to be released from federal custody. She is due back in court on Aug. 3.
Greeted by cheers from supporters outside of federal court, Okoumou thanked the U.S. Park Police for their courtesy and professionalism, but said the government’s “draconian policy” on immigration had to end.
“In a democracy we do not put children in cages,” Okoumou said. “Only a stupid, unintelligent coward, and insecure maniac, would rip a tender-aged child from its mother. Reunite the children now.”
In a statement released before Okoumou’s appearance in federal court, U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman called the Staten Island resident’s actions a “dangerous stunt” that endangered many lives and alarmed the public.
“While we must and do respect the rights of the people to peaceable protest, that right does not extend to breaking the law in ways that put others at risk,” Berman said in the statement. “I commend the Park Police for the orderly evacuation of Liberty Island yesterday, and the NYPD for their bravery and effectiveness in bringing yesterday’s events to a safe conclusion.”
The incident on Wednesday began shortly after seven people with the activist group Rise and Resist were issued summonses for dropping a banner emblazoned with the words “Abolish ICE” from the top of the monument’s base, according to National Park Service spokesman Jerry Willis.
Det. Brian Glacken, one of the members of the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit who climbed up to get Okoumou, said she mentioned “the kids in Texas,” an apparent reference to the immigrant children who had been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.
“She didn’t really elaborate too much into it,” Glacken added.
Okoumou was at first threatening to push Glacken and another officer, Det. Chris Williams, off the statue, but they were eventually able to bring her down safely at about 6:30 p.m. Glacken and Williams were harnessed, and about 14 other ESU members were below assisting them as they made the dangerous climb.
“We took our time to basically get a dialogue with her, get a rapport with her so she would trust us,” Glacken said at a Wednesday evening news conference.
Okoumou had tied herself to one of the round vents on the base of the statue, Glacken said. “She didn’t realize those vents . . . could rip right out,” he said. “Once I explained to her, oh, that’s not safe, she kind of got a little bit worried about that.”
She later apologized to the detectives “for having to go up there to get her,” Glacken said.
Rise and Resist initially denied Okoumou was connected to the organization, but a member later confirmed she had taken part in the unfurling of the “Abolish ICE” banner.
“She is a member of the group, she has done actions with us before. She was part of the banner drop,” Rise and Resist member Jay Walker said. “We did not know of her intentions to take that separate action.”
Walker said he had no idea how Okoumou was able to get up onto the statue.
“I’m really mystified by that. They weren’t even on the highest level of the base. They were kind of in the middle on the second level,” he said of the original protest. “I have no idea how she could have accomplished that.”
Rise and Resist later released another statement calling Okoumou an “amazing woman” and arranged a pro bono defense attorney for her.
“We unequivocally support Patricia,” the statement said.
The protest comes as many Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Nydia Velázquez, have voiced interest in disbanding ICE.
ICE, along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Justice Department, has been involved in handling the Trump administration’s now-reversed family separation policy.
Okoumou’s attorney, Rhidaya Shodhan Trivedi, said they intend to “keep fighting until family separation is a thing of the past.”
Outside court after being released, Okoumou quoted former first lady Michelle Obama: “Our beloved first lady that I care so much about said, ‘when they go low, we go high.’ And I went as high as I could.”
Okoumou, who came to the U.S. from the Republic of the Congo in 1994, was previously charged with recklessly causing physical injury, criminal trespass and obstructing government administration for an incident in August 2017, according to court records. Further details regarding the case were not immediately available.
The Statue of Liberty National Monument resumed normal operating hours on Thursday, the National Park Service said.
With Nicole Brown, Ivan Pereira and Reuters