After three weeks, the trial of Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan is nearly over, with McMillan herself taking the stand yesterday, April 29. Her testimony touched briefly on her educational background and her activism. On Wednesday, she’s expected to discuss her version of what happened on March 17, 2012, when she’s accused of assaulting a police officer, Grantley Bovell, during a demonstration at Zuccotti Park.
As the trial continues, two different versions of McMillan have emerged. Defense testimony depicts McMillan as a gentle, intelligent, non-violent activist who believed in working with the police and the government to make change. They say she elbowed Bovell after he grabbed her breast from behind, and that she didn’t realize it was a police officer doing the grabbing. During the incident, they say, McMillan was thrown to the ground and beaten by Bovell and other officers, triggering a seizure. When a friend visited her in the hospital while she was in custody, she told him she feared her ribs were broken.
The prosecution, meanwhile, maintains that the 25-year-old McMillan is a committed cop-hater who makes a habit of fighting with the police, and that she faked her seizure in an attempt to get out of trouble. They’ve been trying hard to find a way to mention a second pending case against her, a misdemeanor in which she’s charged with interfering with the arrest of a man and a woman who were being cited for fare evasion in the Union Square subway station. Yesterday, they succeeded.
Early in the trial, Judge Ronald Zweibel ruled that previous allegations of violence against Officer Bovell, including a federal lawsuit in which he’s accused of slamming an Occupy protester’s head against the seats of a prisoner transport bus, couldn’t be brought up in front of the jury. Rebecca Heinegg, one of McMillan’s attorneys, argued that the same should be true for McMillan’s pending misdemeanor case. But Zweibel said testimony about the case would be permitted, provided that a witness “opened the door.”
All of the defense witnesses testified that McMillan was firmly non-violent and committed to working with the police, to the point that other protesters called her a “liberal” and a “reformist” (dirty words in more radical circles).
“She had no problem with the state and she had no problem with the police,” OWS activist Marissa Holmes testified. “It was widely known that she had a reformist and a non-violent position.”
Fellow protester Zoltan Gluck said that McMillan supported non-violence “for both political and ethical reasons,” and called the mood in Zuccotti Park that March night “celebratory,” right up until the arrests began. He witnessed McMillan’s seizure and called it “one of the most violent things I’ve seen at Occupy Wall Street,” a remark the prosecution quickly asked be stricken from the record.
“What struck me was police officers were walking away from Cecily,” he added. “People in the crowd were shouting that they were medics,” but police didn’t allow them to approach, and it took several minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
In cross-examinations, Assistant District Attorney Erin Choi continued to suggest that McMillan faked the seizure, saying that she’d been seeing “flipping her hair” while seated on the ground in handcuffs. She also asked every defense witness if they were aware that McMillan had “forcibly interfered” with a police investigation in Union Square.
Choi didn’t elaborate much on that incident, but we can: the Voice obtained a copy of the December 7, 2013 criminal complaint against McMillan. It states that around 1 a.m., transit officer Luis Castillo observed a woman and a man, Abril Chamorro and Martin Delcanizo, walk into the Union Square station through an open emergency exit. Castillo followed the pair onto an L train platform and started to question them.
McMillan was sitting on a bench next to Delcanizo and Chamorro. According to the complaint, she told them, “You don’t have to talk to them,” meaning Officer Castillo and his partner, who isn’t named in the report.
“Don’t pay attention to them,” she allegedly added. “They did not identify themselves.”
Castillo alleges that McMillan repeatedly told the couple not to answer the officer’s questions, and prevented Delcanizo from handing over his ID:
When I asked Mr. Delcanizo for identification, I observed the defendant grab Mr. Delcanizo’s right hand and state in substance, “No, don’t give him your ID,” causing Mr. Delcanizo’s identification to fall to his lap. When I told the defendant to step away because she was interfering with our theft of services investigation, she stated in substance, “I know the law. I’m a lawyer. Don’t cooperate with them.”
Castillo says that when he tried to walk Chamorro and Delcanizo to the precinct office to do a warrant check, McMillan got in the way: “When I attempted to walk around her, I observed her repeatedly move to block my path, and further observed that she refused to comply with my orders to step away.” He says, too, that McMillan didn’t listen to his orders to stay away from the office, shaking the door handle and saying, “Let me in. Don’t cooperate with them.”
Choi is listed as the prosecutor in that case as well. McMillan is charged with obstruction of governmental administration, and would face no more than a year in jail if convicted. The incident allegedly occurred nearly two years after the Occupy arrest, but judging from their cross-examination of the defense witnesses, it looks like Choi and Shanda Strain, the other assistant district ttorney on the Occupy case, will use it in their closing arguments, as part of an attempt to portray McMillan as an unrepentant, anti-law enforcement rabble-rouser.
McMillan and her attorneys clearly anticipate that. In her testimony Tuesday, she took care to talk about all the times she’s protested side by side with the police. McMillan attended college in Wisconsin and was involved in protests there against the drastic budget cuts implemented by Governor Scott Walker, which mainly affected teachers and public sector workers.
“We participated in demonstrations and protests alongside firefighters, teachers and police,” McMillan said. “One time, the police joined us in occupying the Capitol. It was an amazing experience in collective organization.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 30, 2014