Two lawyers accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at an already abandoned NYPD police car in Brooklyn during a protest over the killing of George Floyd last month are facing potential sentences that are devastatingly severe.
Urooj Rahman, 31, and Colinford Mattis, 32, were arrested in the early hours of May 30th, after protests spiraled out of control resulting in clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators.
According to prosecutors, the pair was traveling in Mattis' tan minivan late in the evening of May 29 to participate in the widespread protests in Brooklyn. Just before 1 a.m. on May 30, Rahman approached an empty police vehicle with an already broken window and tossed the incendiary device into the vehicle.
According to reports, the empty police cruiser had already been vandalized and damaged amid rioting that night. The device, which failed to ignite properly, burned part of the driver's console in the abandoned vehicle.
Thrown Back in Jail by Government
The van, driven by Mattis, was then spotted fleeing the scene, and shortly thereafter police stopped the vehicle and arrested both individuals. Two lower court judges let the defendants out on $250,000 bond on June 1. However, they were sent back to the Metropolitan Detention Center a few days later after the government appealed.
Had the case been prosecuted by the Brooklyn District Attorney, legal experts say they would have been released on bond and only those accused of more heinous crimes, like murder are held without bail in New York's state courts.
However, Rahman and Mattis are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and two of the three judge on the panel that revoked the bond were appointed by Donald Trump.
50 Years to Life
The pair has been indicted on seven felony counts—including use of explosives, arson and arson conspiracy and if convicted of all seven charges they could each receive a minimum sentence of nearly half a century in prison. The maximum penalty in the case is life imprisonment.
"If you consider what these individuals are accused of doing – throwing a Molotov cocktail into an already abandoned police vehicle and charring its dashboard — the potential punishments are clearly wildly disproportionate," said Lara Bazelon, a professor and director of the Criminal Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice Clinical Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law.
"They are facing a mandatory minimum of 45 years in prison if convicted. A judge sentencing them would have no choice but to give them that amount of time," she added. Fundrazr accounts have been set up by the family members of both Rahman and Mattis to raise funds for their legal defense.
Backlash on Social Media
The fact that Urooj and Mattis could be spending their life in prison has drawn widespread criticism on social media with users calling out the justice system for charging the lawyers with such a harsh punishment for burning an already vandalised police vehicle while officers that murder black people walk free.
"There is absolutely no justice to be had from a system that regularly murders black people with no consequences, but charges people with 45 YEARS TO LIFE for burning a police car (an inanimate object that will be replaced with taxpayer money)," wrote a Twitter user.
"The lawyers who allegedly threw Molotov cocktails into empty cop cars are facing life in prison but the cops who murdered #BreonnaTaylor sleeping in her bed are still free and employed?? WTF?? #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor," commented another.
A potential life sentence may sound unduly harsh for a crime in which no one was hurt. Especially since Rahman and Mattis have no prior criminal record and had good legal careers.
Mattis, a graduate of Princeton University and the New York University School of Law, is an associate at corporate Manhattan firm Pryor Cashman. Rahman, 31, meanwhile, is also registered as an attorney in New York state, who was admitted to the bar in June 2019 after graduating from Fordham University School of Law.