Two weeks after a jury found her guilty of assaulting a police officer during a March 2012 Occupy Wall Street demonstration, Judge Ronald Zweibel has sentenced Cecily McMillan to 90 days in jail with time served and time off for good behavior, plus five years probation. She’ll finish out her sentence at Rikers, where she’s been housed since being convicted on Monday, May 5. She’s also required to undergo unspecified mental health evaluation and treatment.
The sentence was essentially exactly what the prosecution requested today, minus 5– hours of community service and a $5,000 fine they had also asked that McMillan be required to pay. Assistant District Attorney Erin Choi, the lead prosecutor on the case, is out on maternity leave. Taking her place, ADA Shanda Strain told the judge that not only had McMillan “intentionally assaulted” Officer Grantley Bovell, but “she falsely assaulted his character both inside and outside this courtroom.”
Strain argued that any sentence would have to serve as “an appropriate deterrent” against anyone who would assault a police officer. McMillan, she said, rejected a plea deal and “sought to turn this courtroom into a platform to advance her personal interests.” The trial was not, she said, “a referendum on a large social cause or movement.”
She accused McMillan, too, of spreading “a campaign of falsehoods to avoid responsibility for her actions, the most egregious of which was, two years later, that Officer Bovell grabbed her breast.” Strain called that “a fabrication clearly designed to manipulate the system,” and said it “undermined the claims of genuine assault victims.” She said McMillan needed counseling to deal with her “anger issues.”
Defense attorney Martin Stolar previously provided the judge with hundreds of letters of support of McMillan’s behalf, along with a Change.org petition that has garnered over 169,000 signatures. He asked the judge to “take into consideration the injures Ms. McMillan suffered,” injuries, he said, “that will probably last her the rest of her life.” (Medical records introduced at trial show that McMillan has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.)
Stolar also rejected Strain’s claims that McMillan had deliberately used the trial to get famous. “She has no desire to be a martyr,” he told the judge. “She does not like being in jail and she does not want to go back to jail.”
McMillan spoke next. Clad in a pink sheath dress and almost entirely invisible behind a wall of more than 50 court security officers, she told the judge she was “exhausted.”
“I have spent 35 of the 42 months I’ve been in New York trying to convince this court of my innocence,” she said. “I have lost friends and family, school and work, and, most recently, my freedom. I have been exhausted of nearly everything that makes me, me, except, that is, my dignity. As a young girl my mother told me, ‘Cecy, everything you see, your home, your loved ones, even your life, can be taken from you at will. But no one can strip you of your dignity without your consent.” I don’t think I knew what dignity was then, but I did understand that it was deliberate, something you had to define for yourself.”
McMillan also re-asserted her commitment to non-violence: “This being the law that I live by, I can say with certainty that I am innocent of the crime I have been convicted of. And as I stand before you today, I cannot confess to a crime I did not commit; I cannot do away with my dignity in hopes that you will return me my freedom.”
However, she added, “I am required to acknowledge the unintentional harm I caused another.” She said she was “truly sorry” for Bovell’s injuries, and asked the judge, “I ask you to halt the violence here. Consider my words as I ask you not to perpetuate one injury with another.” (McMillan’s full sentencing statement can be read here.)
Before imposing his sentence, Zweibel said he thought McMillan was “capable of making a positive contribution to society.” As soon as he issued the sentence, court officers started clearing a subdued, mostly quiet crowd of McMillan’s supporters from the room. A few, as they left, broke into a new version of a very old song, singing: “We shall not be moved. Cecily is innocent, we shall not be moved.”
Outside, amid a crowd of supporters, chanting, singing, holding signs and waving puppets, Stolar said McMillan is “relieved it wasn’t two years.” He expects her to serve around 60 days with the time she’s already done and good behavior. That said, he added, “She’s not happy to be going back to Rikers Island.” He said McMillan will appeal her conviction.
McMillan’s support team issued a statement, saying, in part, “We all know Cecily did not receive a fair trial, and this case will be fought in the Court of Appeals.” They add, “The DA and the courts want to make an example of Cecily — to deter us, to scare us, to keep us out of the streets. And we won’t let that happen. This ruling will not deter us, it will strengthen our resolve.”
All photos by Zach D. Roberts