Plea talks stall for N.Y. lawyers charged over Molotov cocktail, trial date set

3 minute read

A NYPD police car is set on fire as protesters clash with police during a march against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon/File Photo

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  • Federal judge in Brooklyn sets tentative March 12, 2022, trial date for Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman
  • Prosecutors accuse lawyers of attacking an empty police vehicle with a Molotov cocktail
  • Plea talks had been underway since February

July 16 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday set a tentative March 2022 trial date after plea talks stalled for two New York lawyers charged with attacking an empty police vehicle with a Molotov cocktail during protests last year over George Floyd's death.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn in February extended plea offers to suspended Pryor Cashman associate Colinford Mattis and public interest attorney Urooj Rahman. But no deal has been reached, prompting the prosecution to ask for a trial date.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Richardson gave a Sept. 17 deadline for the lawyers to accept the government's plea offers and warned they faced "far greater" potential prison sentences if they rejected them and proceeded to trial.

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Rahman and Mattis each face up to life in prison and a mandatory-minimum 45-year term if convicted of seven counts including use of explosives, arson and use of a destructive device. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Plea talks have not completed, but Richardson told U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan that because no deal had been struck after several months, it "makes sense to set a trial date and a motion schedule."

Paul Shechtman, Rahman's lawyer at Bracewell LLP, said he was "still hopeful that we’ll have a resolution, but we don’t have one." He said some charges could be subject to a "serious challenge" and planned to file motions to dismiss them.

Sabrina Shroff, a lawyer for Mattis, said the pre-trial defense motions challenging the case could be "somewhat dispositive" and may dictate how the case moves forward.

Cogan set the case down for trial for March 14, 2022, but said he may move up the date if pandemic-related restrictions that are limiting the ability to conduct trials lapse. The next hearing is Oct. 20.

Mattis, a corporate associate at Pryor, was furloughed in April 2020 as part of a coronavirus-related cost-cutting measure and suspended following his arrest in May 2020. Rahman represented tenants in the Bronx as a public interest lawyer.

Prosecutors accused Rahman of throwing a bottle containing gasoline into an empty police vehicle through an already-broken window and attempting to distribute Molotov cocktails to other people, then fleeing in a minivan driven by Mattis.

Their conduct, prosecutors said, came amid protests in Brooklyn over the death of George Floyd, a Black man, who died in Minneapolis under the knee of a white police officer, an incident that sparked widespread protests against racism and police violence.

The lawyers were charged during the Trump administration, which emphasized tough-on-crime policies, but their plea offers came under the new Biden administration, which has pledged criminal justice reform and to address systemic racism.

Supporters of the lawyers have called U.S. Justice Department's aggressive prosecution of the two lawyers an attempt to stifle dissent against police brutality and have contended they were overcharged.

The case is U.S. v. Mattis et al, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. 20-cr-203.

For the United States: Ian Richardson and Jonathan Algor of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

For Mattis: Sabrina Shroff of Law Offices of Sabrina P. Shroff.

For Rahman: Paul Shechtman of Bracewell and Peter Baldwin of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.