NYPD Testifies In Trial of Cecily McMillan, Occupy Wall Street Protester Accused of Assaulting Cop
On Friday, the trial of Occupy Wall Street protester Cecily McMillan began, more than two years after she's accused of assaulting NYPD officer Grantley Bovell during a March 17, 2012 demonstration at Zuccotti Park. Jury selection took the better part of a week, as both sides had difficulty finding jurors who didn't have opinions about the Occupy movement. Testimony began late Friday; this morning, court was almost immediately interrupted when supporters of McMillan entered the courtroom wearing pink paper hearts on their lapels. After the hearts were confiscated by court security, Officer Bovell finally took the stand for the first part of his testimony, telling the jury that McMillan deliberately elbowed him in the face as he was trying to escort her from the park.
McMillan talks with one of her lawyers, Martin Stolar, after court Monday
McMillan and her attorneys, Martin Stolar and Rebecca Heinegg, don't disagree that she elbowed Bovell, but say she was doing so instinctively, in self-defense, not knowing he was a police officer. During opening statements, Heinegg told the jury of of 10 women and five men that McMillan, now 25, is known by other activists "for her commitment to non-violence." The incident occurred, Heinegg said, as McMillan was stopping by Zucotti Park during a night out celebrating St. Patrick's Day with out-of-town friends. She only elbowed Bovell after he suddenly grabbed her from behind by her right breast and yanked her backwards, "leaving the shape of a handprint" on her body.
"Reacting to being grabbed by a stranger is not a crime," Heinegg told the jury.
Assistant District Attorney Erin Choi, though, told the jurors Friday that McMillan assaulted Bovell unprovoked: "She thought she could get away with assaulting a police officer in the name of protest."
McMillan's supporters, calling themselves Justice for Cecily, have been present for every day of jury selection and trial. Judge Ronald Zweibel had previously banned them from wearing pink hands made out of construction paper on their chests, which they said were symbolic of Bovell's assault on her. (A photograph of the bruise on McMillan's breast allegedly caused by the officer can be seen here.)
But today, just after the jury sat down, about a dozen people filed into the gallery, all of them wearing pink paper hearts on their chests. Zweibel immediately asked the jury to be escorted out.
The judge turned, clearly furious, to Stolar and Heinegg, McMillan's lawyers.
"I directed previously that nobody was to come in with pink parts on their chests," he told them. "I've seen hands outside the courthouse, and today it's hearts. If anybody comes in with something like that on their chest, they're going to be escorted out of the building and not allowed back... The jurors are already asking, 'What's that about?'"
"You're looking right at me as if I'm somehow behind this," Stolar said indignantly. "And I'm not."
A courtroom security guard waded into the audience and gathered up the hearts. The Justice for Cecily crowd, handing them over, seemed to be trying hard not to laugh.
With the hearts safely disposed of, ADA Choi continued questioning Sergeant Joseph Diaz, an NYPD officer with Manhattan South, the precinct usually assigned to cover protests and demonstrations. Diaz, who began his testimony on Friday, claimed not to remember virtually anything about the events of March 17, even telling Stolar on cross-examination he wasn't sure whether there were 10, 50, or 100 people present in Zuccotti Park, or how many people were arrested that night.
Sometimes, the exchange between the two men swerved into comedy. At one point, Stolar asked what the NYPD did between when they arrived at the park, around 5 p.m., and when they were told by their superior officers to get everyone in the park to leave around midnight, so the park could ostensibly be subjected to a thorough, impromptu late-night cleaning.
"I dunno," Diaz replied. "What a cop does? Drinking coffee? Talking about baseball?" The jury tittered.
Bovell, though, recalled the night much more clearly when he took the stand.