NEW YORK (AP) — Two attorneys charged with firebombing a police vehicle amid the unrest convulsing New York City were granted bail Monday over the objections of federal prosecutors who warned the pair might “return to rioting.”
“One night of behavior is not a basis on which to reject somebody’s ability to make rational decisions,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Gold said.
Colinford Mattis, a 32-year-old corporate attorney, and Urooj Rahman, 31 year-old human rights lawyer, are accused of torching a police vehicle in Brooklyn on Saturday during an eruption of violent demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minnesota police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.
The magistrate ordered another woman detained in a separate firebombing late Friday that authorities said targeted four New York City police officers as an initially peaceful demonstration devolved into chaos.
Prosecutors said the attacks, about two hours apart, were among the most brazen the city has seen during days of protests that led the city on Monday to impose an 11 p.m. curfew.
As police and protesters faced off in downtown Brooklyn, surveillance cameras recorded Rahman hurling what prosecutors described as a Molotov cocktail into a police vehicle, setting fire to its console, near an NYPD station house.
Officers arrested the attorneys a short time later and found a lighter, a Bud Light beer bottle filled with toilet paper and a gasoline tank in the back of their minivan, prosecutors said. They face 5 to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.
“Instead of using their privileged positions to change society lawfully, they used a Molotov cocktail and sought to incite others to adopt their violent ways,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Defense attorney Benjamin Yaster said the allegations amounted to a property crime, adding the NYPD vehicle in question had already been vandalized and was unoccupied.
Prosecutors said they would appeal the judge’s order releasing the attorneys on $250,000 bail each.
Yaster said Rahman, who attended New York University Law School, had no criminal history and has “dedicated her life and her still very young career to helping and serving other people,” including refugees abroad.
Mattis, a Princeton University graduate, works as an associate for Pryor Cashman. The Manhattan law firm furloughed him in April and said it would review his employment status following Monday’s hearing.
“As we confront critical issues around historic and ongoing racism and inequity in our society, I am saddened to see this young man allegedly involved in the worst kind of reaction to our shared outrage over what had occurred,” Ronald H. Shechtman, the firm’s managing partner, said in a statement.
Federal authorities brought similar charges against Samantha Shader, a 27-year-old from Catskill, New York, accused of firebombing an NYPD vehicle occupied by four officers. That firebomb shattered two windows of the vehicle but did not seriously injure the officers, authorities said.
Her lawyer, Sam Jacobson, didn’t comment on the charges but expressed concern about Shader’s medical condition, saying she had not yet been treated for injuries she received during her arrest.
Prosecutors said Shader is unemployed and has “traveled the country committing various crimes,” including arrests in 11 different states since 2011. They said Shader admitted throwing the firebomb and biting a responding officer on the leg.