Statue Of Liberty Climber

NYPD Emergency Services Unit

Woman Who Climbed Statue Of Liberty Appears In Court

July 05, 2018 - 12:11 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- A Staten Island woman who climbed onto the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty on the 4th of July to protest the Trump administration's immigration policy was in court Thursday to be arraigned on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges.

U.S. Park Police identified the woman as Therese Okoumou. She pleaded not guilty in court and was released on her personal recognizance.

Shortly after 3 p.m. on Independence Day, Liberty Island was evacuated after a woman was spotted attempting to scale the statue. When police tried to persuade the climber to descend, she sat at the base for nearly three hours. At around 6 p.m., the woman attempted to climb further up and police were then able to safely apprehend her.   

Okoumou faces a charge of interfering with government agency functions.

“The defendant staged a dangerous stunt that alarmed the public and endangered her own life and the lives of the NYPD officers who responded to the scene," said Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "While we must and do respect the rights of the people to peaceable protest, that right does not extend to breaking the law in ways that put others at risk."

Following her court hearing, Okoumou spoke with reporters along with her attorney. She was wearing a shirt reading, "White supremacy is terrorism."

The 44-year-old Congolese native had told police she was protesting the separation of immigrant children from parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

“In a democracy, we do not rip children. We do not put children in cages. Period,” Okoumou said outside court.

Referencing the famous quote by Michelle Obama, "When they go low, we go high," Okoumou said, "I went as high as I could," WCBS 880's Steve Burns reported.

Okoumou said she would not be repeating her protest.

“I would not do it again. The judge told me not to. Of course, I would not do it again,” she said. “But I think the message was sent.”

She was met outside by a group of cheering supporters, many of them likely from Rise and Resist – which hung an “abolish ICE” banner on the statue before Okoumou made her climb. She said her climb was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

NYPD Emergency Services Unit Detective Brian Glacken and his partner, Detective Chris Williams, used a ladder, ropes and harnesses to grab Okoumou off the base of the statue.

"She just mentioned the kids in Texas, I guess the whole debate that's going on right now about that," said

Glacken said she initially threatened to push him and his partners off the 150-foot pedestal.

"When we got her and she couldn't go any further, I think she realized that her time was up up there," Glacken said.

Earlier, National Park Service spokesman Jerry Willis said six other protesters were taken into custody for hanging the "abolish ICE" banner off the statue’s pedestal. Willis says federal regulations prohibit hanging banners from the monument.

Rise and Resist said Okoumou was among 40 protesters who took part in unfurling the banner.

Jay W. Walker, an organizer with Rise and Resist, said the other demonstrators had no idea the woman would make the ascent, which wasn't part of the planned protest.

"Her decision to climb the statue was made independently of the group, without consulting any other member of the group," the group said in a press release. "We understand and share her desire to see the immediate release of children from detention and reunion with their parents."

Walker said, "We don't know whether she had this planned before she ever got to Liberty Island or whether it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, but he added that regardless, he feels the publicity would help the group's cause.

But Willis saw it differently.

"I feel really sorry for those visitors today" who had to leave or couldn't come, Willis said. "People have the right to speak out. I don't think they have the right to co-opt the Statue of Liberty to do it."

The climber ascended from the observation point, Willis said. Visitors were forced to leave Liberty Island hours before its normal 6:15 p.m. closing time, he said.

“This incident caused disruption to thousands of visitors on one of the busiest days of the year at the Statue of Liberty.  We are grateful that the matter was resolved with no one sustaining injuries or causing major damage to the monument," said U.S. Park Police Major Pamela Smith said.

The New York-based Rise and Resist opposes President Donald Trump's administration and advocates ending deportations and family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the president's immigration policy is a step forward for public safety.

Under Trump's zero-tolerance policy, the government has begun requiring border agents to arrest and prosecute anyone caught entering the country illegally. That resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents within six weeks this spring.

Under public pressure, Trump later halted his policy of taking children from their detained parents. A federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration late last month to reunite the more than 2,000 children with their parents in 30 days.

"Abolish ICE" has become a rallying cry at protests around the country and for some Democratic officeholders seeking to boost their progressive credentials. But Trump, a Republican, said on Twitter last week that abolishing ICE will "never happen!"

The Statue of Liberty has long been a welcoming symbol for immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S. It also has been a setting for protests and other actions that forced evacuations.

Last February, someone hung a banner reading "Refugees Welcome" from the observation deck. The sign was taken down about an hour after being discovered.

A year earlier, a West Virginia man was sentenced to time served after calling in a bomb threat that forced the evacuation of Liberty Island, sending 3,200 people on boats back to lower Manhattan and New Jersey.

In 2000, 12 people protesting the Navy's use of the Puerto Rican Island of Vieques for bombing exercises were arrested after a man climbed out on the spires of the statue's crown and attached flags and banners to it.

Okoumou is due back in court for a status hearing in a month.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)