A left-wing lawyer who pleaded guilty to firebombing a police cruiser is asking for a commutation of her sentence, pointing to the fact that she was inebriated at the time of the offense and coping with "unprocessed trauma," according to court filings.
Attorneys for Urooj Rahman argue the self-described human-rights activist was "numb, disassociated, and inebriated" when she threw a Molotov cocktail into a New York City police car during the George Floyd riots in May 2020. Lawyers say Rahman was also reeling from her many "abusive partnership relationships" and processing "early trauma" from being taunted as a Muslim after 9/11.
On the night of May 29, 2020, Rahman "became quite drunk" after drinking vodka on "an empty stomach" with fellow lawyer and later getaway driver Colinford Mattis. Rahman’s attorneys say the pair’s decision to firebomb an NYPD cruiser was an "aberrational" act meant to protect others from future police violence.
"Tossing the Molotov cocktail was a way of expressing anger at those police officers around the country for whom Black lives did not matter," Rahman’s attorneys wrote in a September memo to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan. "It was an act of protest intended to avoid exposing others to harm."
Rahman’s attorneys have requested she be released on "time served," saying "her conduct that night was a marked deviation from her otherwise exemplary life."
The request for a special dispensation builds on a sweetheart deal already reached by Justice Department prosecutors in the case. In June, Rahman and Mattis entered into a second plea agreement that broke their potential 10-year sentences down to a maximum of 5 years. Prosecutors want Judge Cogan to go even lower, arguing for just 18 to 24 months based on the "history and personal characteristics of the defendants."
Rahman and Mattis each confessed to counts of conspiracy to commit arson and to making and possessing an unregistered destructive device, dodging a previous domestic terrorism sentencing enhancement. The two had pleaded guilty in October 2021 to one count of possessing or making a destructive device, which could have earned them each 10 years in prison.
Since their arrest, Rahman and Mattis have won the sympathy of national media and liberal elites. New York magazine, NPR, and other outlets have run favorable profiles of the two. Rahman has remained under house arrest with electronic monitoring since June 2020, when a former Obama administration intelligence official helped post her $250,000 bail.
Their defenders have said the Trump administration wished to make a political example of the pair, bringing federal charges for a crime that is usually dealt with by local authorities. Rahman’s attorneys in their memo argue the defendant has received harsher treatment compared with another federal case involving an NYPD van firebombed in July 2020. Rahman’s attorneys also say their client’s "commitment to social justice" should earn her a more lenient sentence.
But prosecutors who first took up the case emphasized Rahman and Mattis had a higher obligation to uphold the rule of law. The two "abdicated their responsibilities as attorneys" when they chose to not only throw but make and distribute the Molotov cocktails. A witness testified that Rahman passed the explosives out earlier to rioters. Prosecutors also revealed text messages between Rahman and Mattis showing they planned the attack.
"Bring it to their neck," Mattis texted Rahman before sharing the location of police headquarters. "Molotovs rollin’," Rahman responded. "I hope they burn everything down. Need to burn all police stations down and probably the courts too."
Rahman also gave a video interview before distributing the explosives. "This shit won’t ever stop unless we fuckin’ take it all down," she said. "The only way they hear us is through violence."
Rahman and Mattis say they have each been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, for which they have received psychiatric care. Both have also been treated for alcoholism.
A clinical psychologist who analyzed Rahman at the behest of her attorneys said the defendant "[b]eneath her surface functionality is gravely compromised." Rahman, she says, has two therapists, regularly attends meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, and is prescribed an array of psychiatric medications.
A graduate of Fordham University’s law school, Rahman was a public interest lawyer with Bronx Legal Services. Mattis, a graduate of Princeton and New York University Law School, was an associate at Pryor Cashman, a midsize corporate law firm.
Rahman was due at a sentencing in a Brooklyn federal court on Thursday but successfully petitioned for the hearing to be moved to November 9.