Two attorneys were taken back into custody Friday for charges in connection with a Molotov cocktail attack on a police patrol car during protests in Brooklyn last weekend in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
A federal appeals court ruled they should not remain in home detention while prosecutors appeal their bail decision. The lawyers, Colinford Mattis, 32, and Urooj Rahman, 31, had been out on bail with electronic monitoring.
On Saturday night, Brooklyn federal prosecutors charged them with causing damage by fire and explosives to a New York Police Department car after they allegedly drove a tan minivan to the Fort Greene neighborhood and Rahman threw a makeshift explosive into the broken window of an empty patrol car, according to court filings.
Prosecutors said the van, driven by Mattis, then “fled the scene,” and shortly thereafter police stopped the vehicle and found “precursor items” to build explosives, including a lighter, a beer bottle stuffed with toilet paper and a gasoline tank.
According to court filings, a witness said Rahman had also “attempted to distribute” Molotov cocktails to others at the protest “so that those individuals could likewise use the incendiary devices in furtherance of more destruction and violence.” That witness, according to prosecutors, also provided authorities with a photograph of the two attorneys in the van, with Rahman in the passengers’ seat holding a beer bottle in her hand and a scarf to her face.
The case of Rahman and Mattis has drawn attention not only because of the severity of the allegations, but also due to the characteristics of the two defendants. Both attended top-tier schools – Rahman is a graduate of Fordham Law School and Mattis completed New York University Law School after graduating from Princeton University – and have backgrounds that indicate they are devoted members of their families and communities.
Rahman, a Pakistani immigrant, works as an attorney at Bronx Legal Services, where she represents tenants facing evictions, and lives with her elderly mother, for whom she cares. Mattis, who is black, was raised and now lives in East New York, where he is a member of his local community board and cares for three foster children, two of whom he is in the process of adopting.
Prosecutor David Kessler told the panel of appeals court judges during oral arguments Friday that the bail conditions “simply do not address the danger that’s been evidenced by the conduct.”
After a judge questioned how the conditions are inadequate, saying “we’re not dealing with ISIS or the Taliban,” Kessler replied: “I agree, your honor, there’s no foreign terrorist organization in this case, but what we are dealing with is two defendants who, despite being attorneys and not just knowing this is wrong but understanding the seriousness of these consequences took a series of actions designed to cause damage and – designed or not – highly likely to inflict injury if not death.”
But the defendants’ attorneys argued the lower courts had made the correct determination in granting their clients bail and that their conduct should be viewed in context.
“Ms. Rahman was on the street that night like hundreds of other New Yorkers to show her outrage over the murder of George Floyd and the systematic racism that it evidenced,” her attorney, Paul Shechtman, told the court.
He added that “she had no intent to harm anyone. This was an empty police vehicle, badly vandalized, one-and-a-half blocks from the police station. There were only two other people around, both of them were taking photographs. There was no crowd nearby.”
The actions of Rahman and Mattis may have been “stupid,” he said, “but it is two people with no history of violence, no criminal history at all.”
CNN’s Amir Vera contributed to this report.