Two New York City Ivy League lawyers will stand trial in March 2022 for allegedly firebombing a police cruiser and distributing Molotov cocktails during the George Floyd riots last summer.
Defense lawyers for Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman have been in plea negotiations with federal prosecutors since February but have not come to terms, prompting U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan to set a trial schedule for both defendants. Pretrial motions are due on Sept. 17 and jury selection will begin on March 14, 2022.
The accused enjoy widespread support and sympathy from New York’s legal and media elites. Rahman is represented by one of the city’s best defense attorneys, and a former Obama administration official guaranteed her bail in the amount of $250,000. Both have been the subject of favorable profiles in New York magazine and NPR, among other venues.
Cogan has delayed proceedings three times while the parties discussed a prospective plea. Those talks can continue as the case heads to trial. Mattis and Rahman are under house arrest with electronic monitoring, though they’ve each sought relaxed release conditions. Cogan allowed Rahman to attend a bridal shower and a wedding in May, though he denied a bail modification that would have authorized her to move freely about four city boroughs during daylight hours. Mattis obtained permission to celebrate Christmas at a relative’s home.
Supporters and defense lawyers say the Trump administration was out to make an example of Mattis and Rahman. Destroying a police vehicle is the sort of crime that is usually handled by local authorities. But the Department of Justice chose to prosecute the case instead, saying the case was a federal matter because the New York Police Department takes federal dollars and the cruiser was "an instrument in interstate commerce." What’s more, the charges the pair face carry stiff sentences and are typical of prosecutions involving violent drug dealers.
The Justice Department has emphasized that the defendants are practicing attorneys who have a special obligation to uphold the rule of law.
"These defendants abdicated their responsibilities as attorneys," prosecutors wrote in a court filing that advocated for pre-trial detention. "Instead of using their privileged positions to change society lawfully, they used a Molotov cocktail and sought to incite others to adopt their violent ways. They hid under the cloak of peaceful protests and attacked the institutions and individuals who keep them safe and protect their constitutional rights."
The evidence against both defendants is significant. Surveillance footage captured Rahman firebombing an empty police vehicle and retreating to Mattis’s car for a getaway. Police officers were also on hand and witnessed the incident. The pair were arrested together that same evening.
Another witness told authorities that Rahman tried to distribute Molotov cocktails to others "so that those individuals could likewise use the incendiary devices in furtherance of more destruction and violence."
Both defendants face seven felony charges, including civil disorder, arson conspiracy, and federal explosives charges. Lawyers are automatically disbarred for felony convictions in New York state. Mattis was an associate at Pryor Cashman, a midsize corporate law firm. Rahman was a public interest lawyer practicing with Bronx Legal Services.
The case is USA v. Mattis et al in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.