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An Occupy Wall Street protester could be sentenced to seven years in prison on Monday after being convicted of second-degree assault against a New York City police officer. Cecily McMillan maintains she elbowed NYPD Officer Grantley Bovell in the eye in a reflexive reaction to having her breast grabbed.
McMillan, 25, said Bovell grabbed her right breast from behind as he led her out of Zuccotti Park on March 17, 2012, a charge Bovell denies. Her legal team has vowed to appeal her conviction.
“As soon as the sentence is imposed, we plan to appeal,” said Martin Stolar, McMillan’s attorney. “The appellate process takes some time, but that’s certainly something we plan to pursue. There are number of questions, a number of legal errors that we think the judge made.”
The NYPD did not return calls to Al Jazeera, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to comment.
A jury of eight women and four men convicted McMillan on May 5. Barred from conducting research during the four week trial, some of the jurors have since said publicly that they were “shocked” to learn the felony conviction carries a two-to-seven-year prison sentence. Nine of the jurors have since written to Justice Ronald Zweibel and asked for leniency in her sentencing.
“We would ask the court to consider probation with community service,” Charles Woodard, juror number two, wrote. “We feel the felony mark on Cecily’s record is punishment enough for this case and that it serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time.”
But McMillan’s future is no longer in the jury’s hands. Per Judge Zweibel’s orders, McMillan is being held at the Rose M. Singer correctional facility on Riker’s Island until sentencing.
McMillan and her attorneys maintain she is a victim of police brutality, displaying photographs of her bruised right breast, arms and eye in court. McMillan also showed her bruises during an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman on March 23, 2012.
A video showing McMillan convulsing on the pavement while handcuffed was also viewed in court. But the video and the photos failed to sway jurors. Assistant District Attorney Erin Choi implied that McMillan had caused the bruises herself and called her convulsions “the performance of a lifetime.”
McMillan’s legal team has called the allegations she faked her injuries shameful.
“Cecily is a five-foot four-inch, 100-and-something pound female,” said Frank Coughlin, a member of McMillan’s legal team. “Officer Bovell is six-foot-something and 200-something-pound officer. And he is fully capable of grabbing somebody and leaving a bruise. That’s where her bruise came from.”
Officer Bovell was never charged in the incident. But he faces a federal lawsuit from Occupy protester Austin Guest for allegedly slamming his head against the seats of a prison transport bus on the same day of McMillan’s arrest. Bovell was also indicted in 2011 for his involvement in a ticket-fixing scheme.
McMillan’s was among the last of approximately 67 cases against Occupy Wall Street protesters to go to trial. And she is one of 56 people to be convicted; 11 others were acquitted. The vast majority of those arrested had their charges dropped or settled out of court.
“The fact that she’s in jail and the officers that allowed this to happen are free is a real injustice in our society, and I think we need to look very deep into these issues,” said Stacy Lanyon, a photographer who documented McMillan’s arrest and testified on her behalf. “I have seen a lot of police brutality in the two years since Occupy.”
Lanyon said her photos show McMillan “in distress” and “slipping in and out of consciousness” during her arrest.
Lanyon and other activists have rallied in support of McMillan in the days ahead of her sentencing.
“It could have been me, it could have been any of my other friends who were involved in this,” Lanyon said. “The fact that we live in a world where that could happen really scares me, the fact that my friend has been at Riker’s Island for two weeks now really scares me and saddens me deeply.”
For her part, McMillan wrote from jail: “I was prepared then, as I am now, to stand by my convictions and face the consequences of my actions. Packed into a room with 45 other women, often restricted to my cot, I've had nothing but time to measure the strength of my beliefs alongside that ambiguous concept – 'freedom.'"