After throwing an explosive into an unoccupied New York Police cruiser during a demonstration in late May, two lawyers are facing life in prison on charges.
Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman were charges with seven federal counts including use of explosives, arson, use of explosives to commit a felony, arson conspiracy, use of a destructive device, civil disorder, and making or possessing a destructive device, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. Mattis is a 32-year-old Black man and Rahman, 31, is of Pakistani descent.
The incident occurred around 1 a.m. on May 29 in Brooklyn during a protest related to the death of George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day. Rahman reportedly exited a minivan driven by Mattis to throw a Molotov cocktail into the broken window of a NYPD cruiser. Authorities say after Rahman tossed the device she jumped back into the van and Mattis drove off. An explosion never occurred because tissue paper used as a fuse burned out before the fire reached the gasoline. The vehicle was unoccupied, and no one was injured during the incident.
“Police Officers pursued the minivan and arrested Rahman and Mattis, who was the vehicle’s driver,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release stated. “In the vehicle, the NYPD found several component items for Molotov Cocktails, including a lighter, a bottle filled with liquid suspected to be gasoline and toilet paper, additional bottles and toilet paper, and a gasoline canister.”
Prosecutors also accused Rahman of distributing Molotov cocktails to other protesters. If convicted, they face life imprisonment. Both are registered lawyers and had no criminal record prior to their arrest. They were arrested on May 30 and released on a $250,000 bond with electronic monitoring. However, they were thrown back in jail after an appeal from federal prosecutors, who say the two are a danger to others.
Mattis worked as a corporate lawyer at Pryor Cashman until he was furloughed earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is a graduate of Princeton University and the New York University School of Law. Rahman, a Fordham University School of Law alum, was admitted to the bar in June 2019.
Federal appeals court Judge Gerard Lynch asserted the pair should have known better due their profession during a court hearing on Tuesday in which prosecutors successfully sought to revoke bond for the two. He also compared the incident to an accidental explosion caused by the Weather Underground group in 1970.
“A very tiny minority … people who like these defendants had high levels of education, had every reason to think twice, who wound up blowing up a townhouse in Greenwich Village,” Lynch said.
Paul Shechtman, a lawyer representing Rahman, said the pair was caught up in the moment.
“This was lawless, this was stupid,” Shechtman said in early June. “This was two people swept up in the moment. But it is two people with no history of violence, no criminal history at all.”